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A learning paradise
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Since its 1956 opening as an affiliated school to Hangzhou University in China, Xuejun High School has evolved into an award-winning provincial model school in the city of Hangzhou, one of China’s most important tourist venues about 120 miles southwest of Shanghai.
Testament to the school’s growing international exchange is its 50th anniversary yearbook. It includes a full-page, color photograph of the 2005 Georgia delegation of educators -— of which I was a part — that visited Xuejun High to sign a partnership between the high school and Georgia’s Griffin High School. Photographs of that signing hang on the school’s entrance wall, along with those of partnership groups from France, Japan and other countries. In fact, a small contingent from Georgia was present at the 50th anniversary celebration last year.
The 1,800-plus students at Xuejun come to prepare to attend the best universities in the nation. They are selected for the school thru competitive exams and are the “most excellent” students in this city of 6.4 million.
Because it is a public-private school, the tuition costs are split between the government and parents. Teachers in the staff of more than 190 have at least a master’s degree, and their salaries are higher than at other schools. The day at this school, renowned as an experimental school for education reform and scientific research as well as a teaching demonstration school, runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are no school buses, so students must use public transportation, cars or bicycles.
Students peppered the delegation with questions about U.S. universities. Many hope to study in America at some point, and Principal Ma Lisong, who has visited U.S. schools, believes students at his school can learn if he employs the American ability to promote students' creative skills. While China is strong in the fundamentals of academic subjects, he says, an ever-changing world requires that students develop additional skills to adjust. And, as his school's motto indicates, the goal is “a learning paradise for students.”
The principal talked about how burdened the students are and how very hard they work. Their objective is to excel at the National College Entrance Exam, a simultaneous nationwide test taken over three days every June that is essentially the only criterion for college admission. As in the United States, competition is intense for entrance to the best universities.
Two outstanding students from Griffin High School in the Georgia delegation enthralled the Chinese students, who rarely have an opportunity to speak to foreign students in English. The English language class of 52 students sang “Edelweiss” to end the class and say goodbye.
For the daily exercise break, the entire student body lined up in rows on the athletic field, with music booming as student teachers led synchronized rows. With impressive discipline, a student on a platform demonstrated each exercise.
The second school visited by the delegation was the Yangshuo Experimental School of Foreign Studies, a high school in the relatively tiny city of Yangshuo (pop. 300,000). The striking campus in southern China, built around a lake and surrounded by mountains, boards half its 3,000 students, drawing them from surrounding small towns and farming communities.
Focused on learning English, the students, ages 12-18, have a school day from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. that includes daily exercise. True to the school mission, even the teachers take English lessons daily. Classes are enormous by American standards, averaging about 70 students and some even up to 90 students. Two young English teachers from Germany were among the group welcoming the Georgians, highlighting this international linguistic community: Chinese students learning English with a German accent.
Most of the students' parents are farmers with little money; many students go to work immediately after graduation to help and repay their parents. Some attend university to study tourism, the leading growth industry in the region.
The delegation was impressed by the determination, drive and discipline of Chinese students. They and their parents believe education is the road to success and that English is the language to be mastered. At both schools the message was reiterated: These students, teachers and principals want to foster strong partnerships and learn more about America.
Robinson is senior vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.
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