2009-03-12 / Front Page

An international learning experience

A school principal from China talks with sixth graders
By Eileen M. Daly

Culture lesson Students from Jane Mitchell's kindergarten class, top photo, parade their Chinese masks through the hallways at Melrose Avenue School in celebration of the delegation from China. Culture lesson Students from Jane Mitchell's kindergarten class, top photo, parade their Chinese masks through the hallways at Melrose Avenue School in celebration of the delegation from China. Jamestown students heard first-hand last week about life and education in China, the world's largest nation.

Xu Yonghui, a principal who leads a school in China, spoke with sixth grade students at the Lawn Avenue School on Friday. Xu, along with a translator, spent time talking with students about the differences between American and Chinese educational systems.

Xu is visiting Jamestown as part of a partnership developed between the Rhode Island School Superintendent's Association and the China Exchange Initiative.

Superintendent Marcia Lukon explained that five superintendents were chosen to participate in the program following a lengthy application process. She, and the other participants, will visit China in April. Given the trying economic times facing school systems today, Lukon was quick to say that her trip to China will be funded through a combination of her own personal funds, funds from the superintendent's association and the Freeman Foundation, as well as a small amount from the professional development funds allotted to her contractually.

Principal Kathy Almanzor, bottom photo, accepts a scroll as a gift from visiting Chinese principal Xu Yonghui. Photos by Andrea von Hohenleiten Principal Kathy Almanzor, bottom photo, accepts a scroll as a gift from visiting Chinese principal Xu Yonghui. Photos by Andrea von Hohenleiten Xu began his discussion with the sixth graders by quoting the late Chinese President Mao Zedong. "I'm very happy to see you and I would like to say these sentences to you that the first Chinese President Mao said when he met with some Chinese students just like you. 'You are the sun, the morning sun. The world belongs to you and me, but you will be the world,'" Xu said through his translator. Lukon then compared this to the frequent American proclamation to children, "You are the future."

During his discussion with the sixth grade students, Xu talked at length about the earthquake that occurred last year in China. This was a major earthquake that resulted in over 100,000 deaths. Many of the victims were children, Xu said. He then talked of heroic actions on the part of 11-year-old Chinese children who were instrumental in saving the lives of others. "I am proud of these children," Xu said. "They are heroes who cared more for others than themselves."

Xu then spoke of the rigors of education for Chinese children including school days that begin at 6 a.m. and do not end until 9 p.m., school years that last 250 days and school programs that do not include such standard American staples as art, music and sports. When Xu finished describing school in China, Lukon asked the students if they thought they might like to attend school in China. The answer was a resounding and unanimous, "No!"

Following his meeting with the sixth graders, Principal Xu agreed to answer some questions about his experience in the United States. When asked what he had learned here in America that he might want to bring back to China, Xu responded with three major points. "Everyone here has been very welcoming: the superintendent, the teachers, the principals," Xu said. "I will take this friendship back to China."

Secondly, Xu referred to the focus on independent study here in America. "Students here learn to work and study independently," Xu said. He pointed out that this is a major difference between the American and Chinese educational systems.

Xu also referred to the fact that students in America all learn to do independent research.

Principal Xu also referred to the abundance of creative outlets available to students in the United States through numerous programs in art, sports and music.

He was especially interested in the elective courses available to high school students. He pointed out that this would be impossible to implement in China as the competition for higher education is fierce. Students in China are only allowed a free education until the ninth grade. After that, students must take a placement exam in order to further their education. Those that place high on the exam are only required to pay minimal basic costs for their high school education. The lower the student scores, the higher the costs will be, Xu said. Moreover, not every student is afforded the opportunity to continue his or her education. Because of this, he said, the focus in China is not so much on creativity or independent projects, but rather on acquiring the knowledge necessary to score well on the placement exams.

For those students fortunate enough to go on to high school, another placement exam awaits them at the end of their high school years if they wish to go on to a university education, Xu said. The process for acceptance into a university is very similar to the process for acceptance into high school, a placement exam that determines not only who will be allowed to attend but also what the costs will be.

One of the major differences between China and the United States regarding education involves curriculum, Xu said. "In China the curriculum is standardized. Every school teaches the exact same curriculum, whereas here each school teaches differently," Xu said.

Xu said that he is looking forward to hosting the American superintendents in April and sharing the Chinese educational experience with them.

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