On Tuesday evening after our tour in Yangzhou we departed for Nanjing, a city of about 5 million people and capital of the Jiangsu province. We spent two evenings in Nanjing, with Wednesday (June 15th) dedicated to another school signing, a visit to the Ameson Nanjing office, and cultural tour of the city. Our hotel was located at the edge of the Confuscious Temple area, meaning the area was rather crowded with locals and tourists and vendors much like the temple area we visited in Shanghai. One evening we toured the area with our translator who helped us negoitate "bargains" on items such as pearls, hand-painted fans, scrolls, and inexpensive jade. I was curious about the temple, but it did not seem appropriate for us to enter. In particular, I wondered about the women who were brought to the very entrance on rickshaws, seeming to be celebrating some occasion together.
It was also this point in the trip that some of us were growing weary of Chinese food. Tom succumbed to temptation and relished each bite--not hard to do with a KFC, McDonalds or Pizza Hut on every corner.
I did not attend the school signing ceremony on Wednesday with the rest of the delegation. For some reason, I was escorted separately by taxi to the Ameson offices to meet with the program's educational director, Mr. Wang. Mr. Wang and I spoke at the very first school signing in Shanghai about China's interest in 21st century learning and more emphasis on critical-thinking, problem-solving, and project-based learning. In our discussions this morning we were joined by three "deputies" who are working with Mr. Wang to develop the AP program and the newly hired American (who has been living in China) who will help with teacher professional development. It was a fascinating dialogue, with Mr. Wang exhibiting an understanding of progressive pedagogy and fluent English. His passion for learning and desire to change the system was infectious.
Some key remarks by Wang on the way the current system of education (outside the Ameson program) works:
(1) Students are going to school for their parents. "We need to do a lot more to stimulate our students (interest in learning)."
(2) Education is "mass-produced" in China." "We cannot afford a proper education for individual development." Noted that humanities have been really neglected with an emphasis on industry and science.
(3) Everything is based on test scores. All students are ranked based on the scores, and the Chinese understanding of "fairness" is that fairness equates to selecting students according to those rankings alone.
(4) Chinese parents want a university education for their students. 30 years ago only 30% went to university. Now the governement is targeting 60% to higher ed and 40% to some kind of vocational school.
(5) The Ameson program goal is first and foremost the teaching of English. Goal is to increase the English speaking and overall communication skills of Chinese students, not just scoring well on TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). And, with the teaching of English, Wang noted that language is a carrier or culture, thus improving Chinese students' ability to understand the American way and successfully matriculate to universities there.
During our 2 hour visit, we examined how students in our schools might interact both synchronously and asynchronously, and what tools could be used to support those learning experiences. We checked to see what web-based platforms were currently blocked, and we were excited to see that Elluminate (now Blackboard Collaborate) was open. We were also able to access the wiki sites where Lovett houses its curriculum and where students collaboratively research. We have made tentative plans to begin a joint project with a select, small group of students at Lovett and Yangzhou to explore an issue/problem of mutual interest and work towards a joint research presentation and call to action.
After a lunch with Lica Zhang, chief operating officer and the wife of Ameson's director, we traveled into a nearby wooded forest/low-level mountain area to visit the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-zen who is considered the father of modern China. Although the mausoleum itself was closed for restoration, the drive and the walk up the mountain were spectacular.
To end the afternoon we took a quick tour of the Nanjing Museum. (It is said to be one of the largest in China, though in fact it seemed quite small.) The exhibits were breathtaking with treasures from ancient China, many of which were unearthed locally. Unfortunately the museum was closing for the day, so we got a quick glance and a couple of snapshots (including Scott hamming it up).
This day marked the end of our formal touring and school signing with Ameson. The next day, Thursday, was a travel day and our delegation flew on a Chinese airline from Nanjing to Shenzen- another massive city located on mainland China but 30 minutes from Hong Kong. It was here that Ameson had arranged for us to participate in the "First Nanshan International Dialogue." Ameson was a sponsor of this event organized by the Nanshan District, an area we were to discover is one of the country's most open zones for technology, business, and educational innovation.