Only four weeks to graduation! Enjoy the run of performances, exams, new leaders and final gatherings. This week I am writing about a school that I visited in China that hopes to fuse eastern and western philosophies.
The Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS) is part of a group of schools. The first Yew Chung school was started in Hong Kong in the 1930s. Its original aim was to fuse western and eastern educational philosophies. With the opening up of China over the past thirty years, there are now five Yew Chung schools around China and one in Mountain View, California. Here’s a picture of the school motto in the front lobby of the school:
During my visit, I was most interested in how the school fused eastern and western cultures.
The fusion starts with governance. The directorate includes people from China and the west. The school in Beijing has co-principals, one from Great Britain one from China. They also have co-teachers through the primary years: one western and one Chinese. The other three international schools in Beijing that I checked into had almost all western faculty. (For instance, a girl at the International School of Beijing remarked that “almost all of my teachers are from the United States.”) During the visit, I witnessed some of the give and take between western and Chinese faculty.
YCIS is committed to fluency in both English and Chinese, even with its students from Korea or Europe. The principals felt that this commitment to bilingualism set YCIS apart from other schools in Beijing. As part of their Chinese fluency, the students learn Chinese calligraphy as the characters themselves express eastern art and culture.
Academically, the curriculum is based on the British national and IBO systems, which are western. But in a nod to Chinese academics, the school is especially proud of its works in Math and Science. A Holderness parent from China shared with me a Chinese educational “proverb” that says something along the lines of: “If a person knows math and science, they can do anything.” Along those lines, the school has a required Design and Technology curriculum through the middle school years.
I also asked how YCIS fuses eastern and western teaching styles. Western teaching styles include a lot of discussion-based classes, group projects and formative assessments. I, perhaps naively, said that the reputation of eastern teaching involves quiet students and memorization. The British co-principal talked about how they need to teach Asian students to be more comfortable speaking up in class and questioning the teacher. The eastern co-principal agreed, but she also said, “It’s also good for a student to learn how to listen. Even when they are sitting quietly, a lot can be going on inside a student’s head.” A specific example along these lines occurs in math classes. Western math teachers ask students to write down all their steps while doing problems. Chinese math teachers often practice “mental math;” that is–having students practice doing problems entirely in their head and then saying the answers out loud. It was fun to watch this type of give and take between the British and Chinese co-principals.
YCIS is also committed to educating the whole child, and that involves many co-curricular activities beyond academics that lead to exams. For instance, all students up through third grade are required to learn to play the violin. YCIS likes violin training at a young age because it promotes coordination, mathematical reasoning and how to read music. Here’s a picture of the school’s small violins for young kids:
The school also has culture and service requirements and offers interscholastic sports. All middle school students visit and learn about different Chinese cities, and the school offers optional trips to different places around the world. Sports are a western part of the school as not many sports are offered in the city schools in Beijing. It was interesting to note that the British co-principal mentioned that he has to spend time explaining the importance of educating the whole child to some Chinese parents. Chinese schools, for the most part, are focused on exams. His example was how he would have conversations along the lines of “yes, we are going to require the violin even if that means less class time…” The school counselor also described their Character Formation program that is run through the morning homeroom and assembly times. Its curriculum focuses on key words. Diligence was the word during my visit, and one class that I visited was reading from the Bible and from Confucius on the idea of diligence. Finally, their Seeds of Hope service program aims to bring charity and love to different sections of Beijing.
Along these lines, YCIS puts an extensive effort into educating and working with parents. The school counselor teaches a six-week/twelve hour parenting class as well as weekend workshops. The school counselor explained how western parents often need help understanding the life of Beijing and Chinese parents often need help understanding what YCIS means when they say that they educate the whole child. In addition, YCIS hopes to create the feel of a community neighborhood for their parents at the school. I saw several parents on the playgrounds and in the common areas during my visit to the school. It is clear that YCIS wants to fuse western and eastern families as well as educational philosophies.