Talking about rural primary school in China, you may have some preconceived images in mind. Children attentively read their textbooks in a shabby school building. After class, they play football on the playground, dust flying in the air, their faces and clothes covered with mud. What’s more, their teachers are probably worried about the lack of chalk to finish a blackboard-writing…
This habitual thinking is sometimes too ingrained to ignore the changes brought by time. Every time Li Yinlan hears about such stereotype, she would smile and shake her head, “No, maybe it used to be like that, but now I can take you into our school and you can have a look yourself.”
Library of the Second Subsidiary Primary School of Xiamen Huli School for Teachers’ Advanced Studies
Besides the office and classroom, Li Yinlan’s favorite place is an extended studio named Wang Chuan (King Ship) Workshop. Piece by piece, children assemble the components of a ship model originated from ancient folk customs, as if they are opening up a waterway connected with the history thousands of years ago. In the blue-painted intelligent classroom, they can get touch with future-oriented science and technology. And of course, they run on shiny-new rubber racetracks in bright colors, with no need to worry about getting dirt on their clothes.
Li Yinlan, Principal of the Second Subsidiary Primary School of Xiamen Huli School for Teachers’ Advanced Studies
This primary school was first established in 1922. Faced with changes in a century, the primary school is not “senile”, but looks like the children on campus, radiant with youth and vitality.
“The school’s former name was Xian Hou (Peripheral) Primary School, which is shabby and marginal. After the establishment of Xiamen Special Economic Zone, the school was reconstructed into a quadrangle demonstration rural primary school,” Li Yinlan said. However, just as a stereotypical rural primary school, there were a shortage of students and excellent teachers. The quality of education was at the bottom of Huli District, which made her, the headmaster of this school, laden with worries.
A past scene of the Second Subsidiary Primary School of Xiamen Huli School for Teachers’ Advanced Studies (Xian Hou Primary School of Xiamen County)
Many primary schools in China have faced such problems. With the rapid economic and social development, a large number of rural people come to cities, most of whom are young adults of marriage and childbearing age. They are very concerned about whether elementary schools in suburb areas will meet the needs of their children’s education. This is an important factor whether they are willing to settle down and prosper here with urban development.
In 2014, the school was rebuilt and officially renamed. Designers from the China Academy of Art reconstructed the campus space. More than 25,000 square meters of space was divided into 37 teaching classes, accommodating nearly 1,800 teachers and students. Digital calligraphy room, intelligent classroom, assembly hall, indoor basketball hall and table tennis hall, Nanyin music room, three-dimensional paper folding studio and Wang Chuan workshop… With brand-new facilities, it is not hard to imagine that situation and outcome of teaching will develop in a good direction.
Picture of nowadays Second Subsidiary Primary School of Xiamen Huli School for Teachers’ Advanced Studies
Chen Buhua’s career life grows up with the renamed school. Now, he has become a renowned Chinese teacher in Xiamen. Students are eager to attend his lessons. Chen Buhua believes that it is the changes of the “soil” of the school that make the teachers flourishing. In the last three years, this school has been ranked the first tier in all kinds of sampling tests of teaching quality for three consecutive years. Up to now, the school has cultivated 32 core teachers above the district level and municipal level. The former rural primary school has transformed in a fruitful soil where excellent teachers are willing to take root.
The leading wild goose drives the whole flock to fly high. Li Yinlan thinks that the training mechanism of quality teacher in Huli District is similar as the leading wild goose. By carrying out the “Quality Teachers and Principals Training Project”, it has formed a step-by-step advancement system of “novice teacher, district-level outstanding teacher, municipal-level core teacher, municipal-level and provincial-level renowned teacher”. The talent reserve promotes the establishment of the group school-running mode of “core school + assist school”, “core school + new school” and “core school + entrusted private school”. In recent years, the Second Subsidiary Primary School of Xiamen Huli School for Teachers’ Advanced Studies has entrusted two primary schools, and even established teaching assistance with the Second Central Primary School in Minning Town, Ningxia province, far away in northwest China. Experts from famous universities such as East China Normal University and Fujian Normal University, famous schools such as Xiamen Foreign Language School and Xiamen Wuyuan Experimental School continue to give a helping hand, transferring professional teaching experience to schools in Huli District.
Since 2018, under the initiative of Education Bureau of Huli District, schools have more opportunities to integrate with international advanced education. A group of international education experts, including Japanese pedagogy expert Manabu Sato, were invited here to share new ideas and give guidance about school development.
Just as students passing exams for further studies, the reform of the Chinese education system is put to tests again and again faced with faster pace of urbanization. Nearly a quarter of the city’s population resides in Huli District, the smallest of Xiamen’s six districts. In the past, the shortage of schools was a bottleneck of the development of education in Huli District. Insufficient public education resources, uneven private school distributions, and the uneven quality of education all impede the development of education in Huli District. With more and more people working in Huli District, we need better solutions for these educational problems.
A Glimpse of the Wang Chuan Workshop
The transformation of the Second Subsidiary Primary School is due to the reform of the educational mechanism and model brought by this demand. Nowadays, people are happy to see the prospect in these changes, especially those busy parents who are constantly concerned about their children’s academic performance. “At parent-teacher meetings, I often hear parents tell me their child’s comprehensive grades: not just academic grades, but what new skills their child has acquired, and whether they are happier and more confident, which is also the original aspiration of our education.” Li Yinlan said.
The transformation of education model has indeed won the trust and praise of more and more students and parents. In September 2022, eight new schools were established in Huli District, marking a record high in history. At present, Huli District has achieved the full coverage of after-school teaching service in compulsory education and kindergartens, named as one of the first batch of pioneer zones for high-quality and balanced development of compulsory education in China and one of the first batch of strong education zones in Fujian Province. More than 25,000 basic education admission will be added by 2025.
Li Yinlan is glad to be a witness and practitioner of this process. “Now, I can proudly say to everyone who comes to visit our school that our education is not dull or monotonous cram. On the contrary, it nourishes children and inspires their creativity and enthusiasm for the world in a way that they enjoy.” She believes that in today’s China, as generations of children graduate from primary school and come upon the stage of high school, university and society, their life experiences for future endeavor are already sweet and colorful.