Confucius used to say that education is the key to everything. That’s how Chinese still think. Even if Mao Zedong tried to take Confucius down. Even during the Mao era Chinese literacy and peasant and people’s education level sky-rocketed. In 1949, 85% of the Chinese couldn’t even read. With determined contributions that number went down rapidly in 1-2 generations.
Now China is getting back to its historical roots and getting inspired again by its ancient wisdoms, but simultaneously looking forward to a new technological era of innovation and creativity. The new generation of Chinese youngsters, born after 1990s are stepping up. They think radically different from their parents on education and innovation.
And their parents are also catching up. In 10 past years China’s school curricula has changed rapidly. The Soviet-style obligatory learning is gone and more and more creativity and selectivity is entering into the picture. I noted this when I yesterday visited one of Hangzhou’s top schools, the legendary No 14 High School, next to West Lake, which since 1904 have tried to be the frontrunner in education.
I was cordially hosted by Rose, the principal and her aides, which took me a profound tour-de-force in the campus. 1600 pupils concentratedly studying and trying to meet the needs of their teachers and parents. “These guys work so hard”, says Joe, American teacher in English language, one of those 12 rare foreign teachers in the school. “In the U.S. I give them a homework and I feel like nobody gives a damn, but here they really do ALL I give to them”, Joe talks with over a decade of experience at the school.
“Students are our pride”, continues Rose, who’s been in the same cozy school since 1974. She remembers vividly the day when Mao Zedong died. “We were all crying then. Everyone. At the school and outside”, she recalls. “Everyone were asking: how can we now go forward? What will now happen to us?”
A lot of things has happened since. China started its modernisation and reform policies of Deng Xiaoping and the rest is history. The new regime though pays a great deal on innovation as china is changing from the manufacturing-based into an innovation based economy.
The teachers note the challenges of education and the society, but are constantly working on it. A big boat turns slowly.
It is awesome as a Finn to note the excitement towards foreign education models and influences. “You have perhaps the greatest education in the world”, says Rose. “Everybody knows that and its no secret.” Rose, together with her peers and high-level education leaders both from Hangzhou government and local districts, together with key education pioneers of Hangzhou just visited the Finland. The May trip took them to the city of Oulu, Hangzhou’s friendship city, and into their best high and other schools. “I was so amazed”, Rose continues.
It’s awesome to witness on the first hand at the grassroot how the Chinese ideas and thinking mingle and interact with Finnish, American or indeed any foreign thoughts.
“You have a process based education culture, where people enjoy the trip, rather than the end goal”, she notes and adds: “In China we are overly focused on the results. There’s no balance!”
A problem that many acknowledge. “My dream is through Finnish and other influences to help our dear boys and girls to get closer to the middle.”
After visiting the classrooms, talked with the students, teachers and school staff, I got more convinced that there are a lot of things that the school is doing really well. There’s a long way to go – but that’s what Chinese have got used to. The changing is continuous. A setback of 30 years doesn’t mean anything decisive in the course of a few millennia.
After a prolonged morning in the 14th High School of Hangzhou I feel genuinely privileged to have the chance to see and witness the Chinese kids, born at the turn of the millennia to getting increasingly better and more clever tutoring on their way to become the new frontrunners of the nation – and in many times the world. It was close in these same corners, where a young funny and skinny looking Chinese kid Yun Ma, who later adopted an English name Jack, got his first impressions on foreign influences. He became also excited about education, and became a teacher – in English – and started a long march to become perhaps the most famous educator in the world. That background connected with entrepreneurial skills and technological ambition, you can reach almost anything. It was also close in these corners, just a few years ago, where the Chinese president, Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan, chose to put their child to a high school. Hangzhou is one of China’s most advanced cities and it harvests the future talents of not just China, but the world.
It doesn’t feel a good choice to be around, but also actively engage and support that development. A month after one more Finnish group of education pioneers and visionaries enter Hangzhou (p.s. What an honor to be part of that). The group continue to support the growth of these kids and help to take them from more result-based learning to more process-based; in plain language to support the kids to think, create, imagine, and dream big.
And when China keeps on developing, I genuinely believe that the tide is turning. I think it’s good to be early in advance to grasp the essentials of Chinese learning and new advancements – there’s a lot to learn on it.
Feel truly privileged to support all this development. We need to still support the contacts on governmental and societal level. A lot of stuff to work on when two cultures, two eras, a big and a small country meet and interact. Two heritages, two systems, but a common dream and vision – to support the youngest ones of our society to have the best possible tools in both sides of the world to live a great, happy and successful life and become a force of positive change in both of our societies.
That’s called value- and result-based mingling. That’s what me and our team keeps hard working on. That’s why we also get results and things done. We love what we do and focus on getting things forward as fast and well as possible.
P.S. Last week got two more new people to join the team. That’s awesome. We’re growing steadily and firmly. Genuine thanks to Hangzhou and China to give all these opportunities to strengthen own program and also help to live a meaningful life. What else could you hope?
Back to work,
the world is not ready yet,
even if I can’t get up to the hours of work those kids in the 14th High School, I’m still pretty close, and with the view on two worlds I believe there’s a lot of interesting weeks, months and years ahead of us.
Keep it up, stick to your Chinese dream and make it reality!