As parents are aware, last week we travelled to Hangzhou, an eastern city in China, to firstly establish a Sister School Partnership and secondly to present information related to education in Western Australia during a two-day conference. I thought I would share some of our learnings, as well as our experiences from the trip to China.
Hangzhou is a city on the eastern side of China. It is a large city by Australian standards with a population of 14 million. In comparison Perth has a population of only 1.6 million. In China however, Hangzhou is not a large city as Shanghai has 24.1 million people and Beijing has 21.5 million.
In China, we were fortunate to visit two different schools - a public school and a privately supported school. The first school we visited was a public school - Hangzhou Jingcheng Experimental School which was a primary and middle school in Hangzhou for students from Year One to Year Nine. This school was very large with forty students in each class and four classes in each year level. The buildings of the school were five stories high!
The second school, was a private school (still owned by the government) and our Sister School - The Sports Park Campus of Hangzhou Changjiang Experimental Primary School. This was a new school and only had grades One and Two. Both year levels have five streams and each class has a maximum of 35 children. Last year, the school had over 1000 applications for 125 places and parents were interviewed and sat an exam for their child to be given a place. (I wonder if I should bring this into the interview process here at Infant Jesus??) Parents see it as a privilege and honour to send their child to such a good school and are appreciative of the school’s endeavours. They pay school fees (equivalent to ours) for their child to attend this school.
Interesting facts about school in China:
- The school day commences at 7:30am for students and ends at 4:00pm (4.30pm at Jingcheng Experimental School). The students only have one break, lunch, which lasts for at least half an hour.
- A warm, cooked lunch is provided to every child each day and it consists of a meat, fish, a vegetable dish and rice or noodles. This is eaten either in the cafeteria or in the classroom.
- Lunch break lasts for half an hour in which this time the children eat and then may run around the school. At our sister school the children sometimes have supervised play on a ‘rock / climbing wall.’ They spend most of their time waiting in the line for a very short climb on the wall. After lunch is eye rest time. But not for too long!
- The classrooms are set up traditionally, with each child having their own desk. The teacher stands behind her desk on a small stage and teaches through a microphone headset. Some classrooms had blackboards and some had smart boards. The children used worksheets and workbooks to complete their learning.
- The children are taught by a different teacher for each subject, and each subject provides the children with homework. Year One students can do up to two hours of homework a night!
- Teachers must be on campus from 7:00am-5:30pm and most teach only one year level.
- Parents do not enter the school grounds in China, but rather wait outside the school gates. The children are walked in each morning by their teachers and walked out at the end of the day. If they have not completed their work for that day the children stay back until it is completed and their parents must wait. This occurs from Year One!
- Many children attend Friday evening tutoring and Saturday morning classes to give them an advantage to their studies.
On Wednesday, 15 November, the day that the papers were signed with the Hangzhou Changjiang Experimental Primary School to become a Sister School, we were welcomed by some children dressed in formal uniforms. After the greetings, there was a tour of the school which included the Library, the Technology Hub, the Science area and the Art Room. We joined in an Art lesson and were helped by the Chinese children to make a paper artwork that symbolised ‘Happy person.’
The official ceremony to celebrate the signing of the Sister School Partnership was held in the School Hall. (See Photo) We were officially welcomed by all the staff and the children and were entertained by the Year One and Year Two students. Musicians, Chinese Karate, singing, flute playing, dancing and even an ukulele ensemble was all part of the performance! Some important / official guests were also invited and included members of the Bureau of Education in Hangzhou.
I then signed a document with the vice-principal of Hangzhou Changjiang Experimental Primary School to document the partnership. The children then gave Infant Jesus School some gifts to commemorate the event. I was able to address the children (similar to our assembly) and I had an interpreter to assist me.
After the official signing the children returned to their classes. I then was given an opportunity to speak with the invited guests about Infant Jesus School. I outlined some the special features of our school and community, and showed two videos that we had produced to share our story. The parents were very interested in our school and loved seeing photos and watching videos. They also asked many questions about education in Western Australia.
After talking to the parents, we participated in a tour of the sports facilities adjacent to the campus. During this time, all the children in the school were participating in different sports including badminton, running, soccer, American football, tennis, basketball and karate and take place both at the school and in the Sports Park next door. The various clubs are run by professional bodies and the sport session lasted for two hours – without a break! Parents sign up for these sports at enrolment and continue with these sports throughout the time at the school.
Following the signing and celebration of the partnership with our Sister School an article on the event was published for their parent communication space. A local news reporter also attended the event and an article was included in the newspaper.
During the visit to China three presentations from Infant Jesus School were part of the 2017 Forum of Educational Innovation. The focus of this forum was on Literacy Education and the Transformation of Learning and Teaching Methodology. We spoke about three things:
1. Leadership and leading schools
2. Teaching and Learning using the inquiry method
3. The importance of Building Relationships and providing Feedback
I was invited to talk to principals from all over the Hangzhou province about how schools operate in Australia. My talk focused on Leading Schools and developing an improvement culture within a school. I also shared information about Infant Jesus School and some of the challenges of leading schools in Western Australia.
In the afternoon, Clare Moffat, Melissa Myles and myself demonstrated how Infant Jesus School encourages our kids to inquire and collaborate. In the auditorium, a classroom was set up and they taught twenty Chinese Year Sixes in front of an audience of 300. They taught the children in the same way that we teach at Infant Jesus School, but it was very different for the Chinese children as they are used to sitting in rows and the teacher teaching from behind her desk. They had never worked in groups, completed a brainstorm or sat on a mat before!
At the beginning of the lesson the children were given a problem and in groups had to work together to solve it. This was based upon the iHour structure. It was lots of fun for the children but also tricky as it was the first time that they had worked in a group!
As the children were working lots of teachers and principals were watching and listening. They came onto the stage occasionally to see what the children were doing. Once the children had created their designs they had to present them to the audience.
Overall, fantastic feedback was received from the audience, with many people stopping to ask questions about the school and the teaching and learning at Infant Jesus School.
A summary of the day appeared on the school's newsfeed, and a newspaper even ran an article on the conference!
On the second day of the conference, I addressed the participants about the importance of building relationships with students to ultimately get the best out of the child and improve outcomes through learning and well-being. The participants continued to ask questions about Infant Jesus School's vision and the implementation of the school-wide pedagogy with many eager to connect with us again in the future.
It was a really interesting and worthwhile experience. I believe the Sister School Partnership will provide our school and students with great opportunities for learning about another country and their culture, as well as develop some language skills. I am sure there will be further opportunity for our school to progress this relationship in 2018.