Day 5 of our China adventures
11/01/2013 - 11/01/2013 0 °C
Today I taught my first lesson in Chinese at the local primary school. I’m really interested in seeing schools now that I’m a teacher, and luckily my dad was able to arrange for us to visit his old primary school near the village in a place called Shazilin (Sandy Peak) Baojia. Also, other people took pictures so I can share some from the day even though I lost all of mine, hooray!
I’ve been teaching for the past two years near Geelong, Victoria at a disadvantaged school through a program called Teach For Australia – but compared to this school, the disadvantage really was incomparable. The librarian at my old school donated some unused picture books and posters as I heard Chinese schools were quite colourless.
“So how long will I be teaching for? How many students?” I asked my dad.
“I don’t know. Just see how you go when we get there…” he replied.
My dad, mum, brother, auntie, Weiwei and her mum got up early at 7AM and walked for 30 minutes to the school, passing the other villagers and stopping on the way to chat. My dad told me once when he was younger in year 4, he really, really didn’t want to go to school and wanted to drop out. My granddad, his father, made him walk to the school by following him on his walk with a big stick. Each time he slowed down, my granddad whacked him with the stick. They walked nearly all the way to school like this. And the school was too poor that students had to bring their own desk and chairs, but my dad’s family couldn’t afford it so he had to share a chair with his other friend.
As we approach, I heard the familiar chattering of children. Although they were on holidays, today they were at school to collect their report cards and results. They were playing games and running around. There was a huge ceramic map of the world next to the Chinese flag and there were three boys looking at it. The school was in a four story block with an asphalt square and basketball court next to it. The teachers lived in a little block next to the school.
We walked up to the 4th floor to meet the principal in his office. It was super cold and there was no heating. There were children milling around but they were too scared to venture into his office so they hung around next to the door. He began preparing some tea to welcome us and said how happy he was that my dad, a former student, had come back. He told me he wanted me to teach a year 5 class and I heard across the loudspeaker, “Year 5 Class A1 Students! This is a big announcement! An overseas teacher is here… please report to the classroom!”
The principal handed me some chalk – I’ve never used a blackboard before! We walked into the classroom where I saw 60+ students waiting at their desks chatting animatedly. The principal introduced us, and my dad did a small talk in the local dialect. I think it was a great opportunity for these children to be exposed to other cultures. More than half of them are minority groups (Guizhou is famous for its minority groups ie people that are no Han Chinese), and don’t even start speaking or understanding Mandarin until Year 1 or 2, let alone English.
I started the lesson by talking about who I was and introducing them to Australia animals, food and geography. There were perhaps another 30 or so students peering in through the windows and piling in through the door.
I taught them about kangaroos, beaches, sandwiches and some very simple English greetings while Stefan helped draw pictures. None of them had heard of what a sandwich was, or what it looked like.
Afterwards, there was question time. No one wanted to ask any questions as they were too scared. I said, “OK, I need three people to ask questions. If I don’t get any, I will have to pick on people!”
Eventually, one girl standing right next to me asked, softly, “How old are you?”
Then another one asked, “What animals do you like?” and a little boy asked, “What animals do you find annoying?”
I told them to study hard and be diligent. We gave them out little koalas and boomerangs.
It was so wonderful to teach these students. Even by year 2 they took their studies seriously. Weiwei, 7, received her report card and only got 60+ on her maths score. She was devastated. The pressure on Chinese students is absolutely enormous. Especially in the countryside, it’s one of the only ways you have a chance to do well. I really can’t believe how lucky my dad was to make it to Australia and change our lives.
Afterwards, we drove into town and met all the other teachers at a small hotpot restaurant. We talked about issues within education which are universal, and in China there is an even bigger socio-economic gap which impacts on student outcomes. The principal recently went on a school visit to Ningbo in Zhejiang province, a much, much more economically developed city than Guizhou. He said within one class at the Ningbo school, 75% of students would be able to go onto good universities such as Qinghua in Beijing. The best that his students could hope for are to attend second-tier universities or factory work like their parents. At least education is completely free. That’s a big, big plus. And the school provides free lunch for these students as part of some program. These huge inequalities will continue as long as the wealth gap keeps widening– right now this country has one of the biggest wage gaps in the world. I’ll be visiting the Teach For China offices in Beijing soon and be able to talk to them about some of these issues too.
It’s raining and bleak here in winter. The colour palette is all greys and browns. There are 5 generations of our family in this village and it’s so nice to be around relatives.