Chinese Bridge for UK Schools is a project organised through the SSAT and the Confucius Institute headquarters, known as Hanban is the official Chinese organisation for the promotion of Chinese Language and Culture around the world.
The Confucius Institute helps provide teaching resources and Chinese volunteer teachers to encourage schools to teach the Chinese language. Many of these already exist in different parts of the UK across all phases of education.
About 70 teachers covering all education sectors from HE to Early Years went on the trip to Beijing before the group split into two with one going to Jinan in Shandong Province and the other going to Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province.
Spending time in Beijing was quite an experience we stayed in a hotel near Beijing Zoo and its metro station.
This was our base for 3 days giving us the opportunity to visit the great tourist attractions The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square,
As I have said in another blog I feel very privileged to have been able to visit China in this really exciting point in its very long and dramatic history.
Beijing is an incredible city one of the worlds biggest cities genuinely a megalopolis.
We were incredibly well looked after and the majority of us felt that our clothes were a bit tighter after 10 days of being very well fed.
Some of us went to Jinan the city of 100 springs and known as the friendly city, it is the provincial capital of Shandong Province about 450 Kilometres from Beijing. The whole group were very excited by the prospect of travelling on the Bullet train at speeds of around 300 KPH
The city has like many areas of China undergone rapid modernisation and while it doesn’t have the mega sky scrapers of some of the cities, it does have the modern steel and glass hotels and a shopping centre to rival Westfield. The school we visited in Jinan was the Jinan Shungeng Middle School, the school has 1800 students aged between 13 and 15.
Itis a local school and non-selective, it has a reputation as a good school and many of its students score well enough in their exams to get into the very selective High Schools. An indication of the popularity of the school is very similar to London in that apartment prices in the area close to the school are more expensive than similar apartments outside the catchment.
The school day starts formally at 7.50am and many students will be in school from 7.30 when it opens, many students will go and see teachers to hand in homework at this time. Lessons start at 8.00am and go on until 12.00am, each lesson is 50 minutes long,with a ten minute break between lessons when students are encouraged to get fresh air, the beginning and end of lessons were announced by playing music over the tannoy system. There is a morning break of 25 minutes when students are encouraged to exercise and play games in the playground. Lunch is two hours and at Jinan Shungeng Middle School all children go home to lunch. Although they can stay on site if they want, to do Homework or make use of the Sports Ground.
Classes start again at 2pm and go on until 4pm but students stay in school until 6pm because they will do extra curricular activities and have team practices and clubs.
Students are all expected to complete 3 hours homework a night and many students will not get to bed before 1am depending on how much homework they have to do. The driving force for this massive work load is in getting the grades required to get into the best high schools that will in turn get them into the best universities either locally in Jinan or moving away to Beijing or Shanghai.
Exams have been central to Chinese education for more than 2000 years as they were an essential part of progression into the imperial civil service.
The school places great emphasis on improving and developing its teachers and teaching staff in the school have won many awards at provincial and national level. Certainly in the 2 days we spent in the school we were aware of lots of peer observations going on with teachers sitting in each others classrooms. Observation seems to be a key element in their teacher development programme. We saw lessons that even with current OFSTED gradings would have been Good or Outstanding particularly a maths lesson were a younger group of students were challenged and put through their paces at a fairly challenging level, which more knowledgeable colleagues said would have been equivalent to higher tier GCSE. The quality and style of teaching has to consider that teachers are working with classes of about 50 students and the science lab we saw was set up for about 70 students
Students have a very long day at school and they work very hard but it was lovely to see that they also played very hard, we saw many students having fun, laughing and enjoying themselves in school but as soon as the teacher walked into the lesson attention on the lesson was 100%. Having said that the relationships between teachers and students in the lessons also seemed to be really good, students and teachers were not afraid of having a laugh together.
Physical well being is very important and students are encouraged to be out of buildings during any break and we saw lots of young people working at their sport practice with the same intensity as we say them working on academic practice in lessons.
There was also a 20 minute slot in the morning for students to do their eye exercises which is common in a lot of Chinese Schools.
After school we were taken to dinner by a member of the Senior Management team and the two English Language Teachers that were attached to the us during the visit Ms Ho and Mr Wong. These two colleagues in particular helped make our visit to Jinan very special and were also happy to answer our questions and help us out.
The food was absolutely fantastic, and it took us a while to realise that the food would continue to arrive at the table if we continued to eat everything on the plates and if we stopped eating the food would stop arriving. Cross cultural issues abound with us being brought up to believe its polite eat everything on your plate and everything your host has cooked for you translating to your guests as not having provided enough for their guests to eat. We also learnt that the seating protocols for a classic Chinese Banquet were quite complex all about balancing the power around the table!.
All of the teachers on the journey really valued the time that spent in school and are hugely appreciative of The Confucius Institute and in my case the SSAT for the opportunity to take part in this fantastic journey.