This morning we visited the Nansuo Village Primary School in Hu County, about an hour outside of Xi’an. Several years ago this rural school was identified by People to People as a school in need that could be easily accessed by their delegations. The school has a new library (extremely small with a limited number of books) courtesy of People to People. There are two computers in the entire school, which serves about 170 students. Teachers use these computers to present material to students – PowerPoints, videos they have created and information found on the Internet. When we visited it was about 40 degrees outside, and not much warmer in the classrooms. Students and teachers were dressed in jackets and gloves, some with ski-type pants on. There is a small coal heater in the back of the classroom and a pile of coal bricks in a back corner of the room. These coal bricks are about 5″ in diameter and about 5″ in length with round holes running end to end. When the bricks are spent they turn orange in color.
Until a few weeks ago school started at 8AM, but a new government regulation for primary schools dictated that primary students may attend school more than 6 hours per day. Now the morning session runs from 8:30 to 11:00 AM, the students go home for lunch which runs from 11:30 to 2:00. Students return to school for another three hours of classes in the afternoon. Just like the middle/high school we visited in Beijing teachers only teach 2 to 3 classes per day – I asked, this is simply a coincidence, it is not a regulation. In this school they may teach more than one subject – generally a core subject like math and another course such as music. No teacher teaches all subjects. They are certified in the main subject they teach, but often not in the second subject.
Teachers at Nansuo Village Primary have only basic computer skills but they do use the Internet to find ideas for teaching. There is an online forum for teachers they use to share ideas with other teachers around the country. Professional development can be either by choice or as mandated by the school or township. Teachers can attend a continuing educational facility for training to update skills.
Students are assessed for math skills once per week and other subjects on a monthly basis. If a student are not performing well there are mentoring/tutoring opportunities after school. If this is not sufficient parents step in and find someone to help their child. There are no such diagnoses as ADD/ADHD. Teachers visit student homes to let parents know how their child is doing and there are parent conferences at the end of each semester. In addition teachers can contact parents by cell phone.
This afternoon we visited Xi’an Eurasia University, a private university established in 1995. approximately 20,000 students (mostly female) attend classes in a variety of majors. The delegation had an opportunity to share ideas on integrating technology into the classroom. They face the same problem we do in the states – teachers unwilling to change their teaching style form teacher-centered to more modern styles which focus on inquiry and problem solving (student-centered) – those that engage students young to old and get them excited about learning. We indicated that technology integration is not about the technology itself but the technology can enhance the curriculum. Just like in the United States there is such a focus on testing (in this case, university entrance exams) that there is a hesitation to try something new. We suggested coaching and mentoring programs as well as targeted professional development. Several delegation members suggested targeting teachers to pilot technology projects.
The delegation offered a variety of information on the use of 21st Century skills, along with numerous resources they might be able to use such as Schoology, GoingOn and Edmodo – all social learning platforms or tools. The faculty at XEU expressed concern that rural areas do not have the hardware nor access that urban areas do, both of which are required for the use of such tools. Indeed, we have seen a range of accessibility in the schools we have been in from the one to one laptop initiative in the international school to a school of 1700 with two computer labs and only teacher laptops to a rural school with a total of two computers. Almost all students in urban areas have access to a computer at home. In rural villages there is a government subsidized computer in a family home for use by the entire village (typically by the farmers to check seed prices and the like). Students at Nansuo Primary do have (limited) opportunity to use the 2 school computers after school.