Thursday, June 21, 2012

First Full Day in Xian

 We arrived in Xian at around noon and went straight to the Xian Middle School for grades 10-12. The school has 5000 students, most of whom are boarding. The campus was built in 2000 and is beautiful. The vice principal told us that, in the 105 years of the school's history, it has followed one principle regardless of China's changes- its focus is on building character. He said that the focus is not just on having students do well on exams. Most go to four year colleges but maybe not the most elite schools. The school lets students develop as a whole person so they do very well in college. There are 60-70 students in each class- not each grade but literally in each classroom! There is an international school within the school that focuses on foreign language study and whose students participate in international school exchanges. Those class sizes are around 20 students.

We left that school and went to the Xian Foreign Language School which has 3400 students grades 1-12 on two different campuses. Students study two out of the following languages- French, German, English, and Japanese. The principal is very interested in exploring opportunities to make connections between our schools, particularly high school student exchanges. He seems very forward thinking in terms of enhancing the curriculum and is considering inviting a curriculum expert named Grant Wiggins to visit the school. (He was our professional day speaker a few years ago!)

After a small sampling of Chinese schools, I have learned a lot! Here are some of the major things I have learned:
  • class sizes are generally very high- 60-70 students per class
  • the teaching method is generally direct instruction with students in rows; all students seemed to be paying attention.
  • there is a huge emphasis on math and science. In grades 10-12 students take biology, chemistry, and physics all three years!
  • the government provides schooling for grades K-9. During 9th grade students take exams that determine whether they will go on to high school or into the work force. If they go to high school they need to apply and get accepted, and they need to pay for it.
  • the arts are limited and are seen as extracurricular
  • the school day is long, sometimes going from 7:30-6:00 with no afternoon athletics
  • the students are very goal oriented. Getting high grades is very important for their future as universities pretty much just look at scores.

I have thought back to dinner a couple of nights ago when the high school student described why he wanted to go to high school in the US- he wanted to be well-rounded and not just do everything lock step with his classmates. His dad said that he felt like US schools really helped with character development too!

Tonight we went to dinner with friends of Xiumin's who are for Xian but who live in Potomac, Maryland. They treated us to a delicious feast of many local dishes! Tomorrow we will visit another school in the morning and then see the famous terra cotta warriors in the afternoon!

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