Changing Times in Education

Costa Rica Group

IACS Students in Costa Rica

Today, Innovation Academy begins spring break, but the learning doesn’t stop. Mrs. Kapeckas titled her post of the day “Changing Times in Education” and we can see that all over the world. Some of our high school students are currently in Costa Rica learning about biology and many other subjects. Today, they visited a biodiversity park, Doka coffee plantation, took a ride to Paos Volcano, and relaxed in hot springs. Tomorrow they’ll be spending the day building a bridge for a poor family of pineapple farmers. KapeckasAt the same time, our middle school principal, Melissa Kapeckas, is visiting schools in the Hebei Province of China. Read on to learn about her experiences. Are they similar to the school where I got a chance to volunteer over the summer in the Beijing suburbs? If you read this and still haven’t gotten enough, re-read Senora Schmalz’s guest post from the summer when she went to Costa Rica with her family. There’s no doubt that this kind of education is certainly changing for the 21st century!


First grade class

First grade class

Over the past two days, our group has been meeting with Hebei provincial education officials to learn of the current status of the Chinese education system and the vision for continued reform. We have also toured two top schools in the province, the Shijazhaung Foreign Language School and the Vocational Education Center of Shijiazhaung. Tomorrow, we will leave to begin our shadowing project. I will be living with Director Wang and his family and shadowing Mr. Yaolin Pei, the principal of No. 31 Handan Middle School. I am not sure what kind of internet access I will have, so there may be a delay in my posts. Cross your fingers that won’t be the case!

Mrs. Kapeckas with Kung Fu Class

Mrs. Kapeckas with Kung Fu Class

One of the recent goals of the Chinese government has been to mandate compulsory education from grades 1-9. During the 1990’s, the government invested in new school buildings to ensure that all Chinese children had access to schools and subsequently, regulations were passed to mandate compulsory education for grades 1-9. By the year 2000, that goal was realized with 99.5% of children in school and the government pushing to achieve 100%. Public funding has also increased, and while inequities exist, the government is working to make strides in rural education as it urbanizes China. For example, funding is pooled at the county level to guarantee staffing no matter the resources of the individual township. Additionally, there is funding for school lunch programs in rural areas and programs to rotate urban teachers and principals to rural areas where they often have difficulty attracting educators. Improvements in compulsory education and population growth have created a sharp increase in enrollment at high schools as well. In reforming education, high schools have been consolidated to pool resources, resulting in very large high schools. Many public schools are boarding schools, so that students living outside the urban areas can live at school from Monday-Friday. Recently, the government has begun to increase access to preschool education to build up the number of publicly funded kindergartens and subsidize privately funded kindergartens. Additionally, the Chinese government is working to reform curriculum and teaching practice. Mr. Shoumin Li and Director Jianguo Hou, two of the Hebei provincial education officials we met with, shared that too many classrooms are lecture-based with out of date textbooks and technology. While students acquire knowledge, they do not have a lot of exposure to critical thinking or creativity. They are hoping to change this for the future. I am certain that Innovation Academy can help our Chinese friends about this!

Some obstacles they shared include:
  • A large “floating” population due to rural migration.
  • High stress on students due to an exam-oriented culture; teachers are afraid to take risks in the classroom for fear that test scores will drop. They also shared that students have too much homework, and not enough time for exercise, sleep, and play.
  • Educating the sheer amount of students. There are 8 million students in Hebei province alone.
6th Grade Cooking Class

6th Grade Cooking Class

Many of these challenges did not seem evident at Shijazhaung Foreign Language School, the largest and top-performing school in the city. SFLS educates 12,000 (yes, that’s right….12,000) students each year with 915 staff members. Technically, SFLS is a consortium of 4 schools working in collaboration with the PK-9 privately funded and the key  high school publicly funded for grades 10-12. There are day and boarding students beginning in the primary school. All students take English beginning at age 3. Students were excited to practice their near perfect English with the American delegation of principals on tour. Students can also take Japanese or Russian as an elective, beginning in seventh grade. While class size can run up to 60-70 students/class, SFLS employs double the amount of English teachers to reduce English class size to 30-35 students/class. In addition to traditional academics, the school is proud of a school-based curriculum that allows students many opportunities for music, art, technology, and physical education. Students rotate through 26 compulsory courses in grades 7-9, such as ping pong, martial arts, electronics, cooking, bowling, and linoleum block painting, and then take more in-depth electives within high school. Finally, their school is unique in the amount of international exchange. They currently have partnerships with 25 schools in 10 different countries, exchanging both students and teachers.

Banner hung at SFLS

Banner hung at SFLS

The school day runs from 8-5 pm, with a break for dinner and recess/clubs before studying begins for boarding students. For primary school teachers, teachers loop with their students for grades 1-3 (and the 4-6 team does a 3 year loop with their students). Each elementary class has 3 primary teachers- a math teacher, an English teacher, and a Chinese teacher. The looping is important, because even primary classes can have up to 70 students in them. Teachers plan in collaboration in grade-level teams. They spend one afternoon from 1:30-5 pm planning lessons together for the next week. There are no substitute teachers; teachers cover for one another when they are out.

The facilities and student achievement were very impressive at SFLS. It was a joy to see kung fu class with the kindergartners and be fed dumplings by the 6th grade cooking class! That said, I’m also quite interested to see what a typical school is like and I’m eager to travel to Handan tomorrow!
~ Melissa Kapeckas

Categories: China Guest, Guest Posts

1 reply »

  1. Hi, I am a foreign teacher at SFLS. I taught band in Texas for 14 years, and last year I came to Shijiazhuang and taught oral English. (My husband has a career opportunity). I would love to talk to you.

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