People who had previously been on one of Tracy Lesh’s and Michael’s tours, said that you don’t leave hungry, and our lunch on Monday proved true. After leaving the little girl’s house where we had distributed Christmas gifts, we boarded the bus and headed to LiJing Hotel.
Those brown balls that look like mushrooms were actually hollowed out bread bowls into which you put the yummy greens. The yellow dish at 10 o’clock in the picture is braised radishes in a pumpkin sauce. There was also a lamb dish, which was supposed to be warming in winter. I don’t know if it made me any warmer than I usually am, since I’m usually having hot flashes, but it was fabulously delicious!
We got back on the bus after lunch and headed to the migrant school. Migrant schools are for children who’s parents have come from the countryside to work in the city. Children must have a “hukou” or residence permit to attend the local schools, which excludes the children of migrants. Changing your hukou is costly and difficult, a problem that previously meant the children had to stay in the countryside and go to whatever school was available there. Eventually these migrant schools were built for the children, so that they could come to live with their parents.
The problem comes when the children reach the end of middle school at age 15. That is the end of free public education in China. (Which is why you might see young people in foreign factories–many just go to work.) High school, which is three years, costs money, and of course it costs money to get a local hukou so the child could attend the local school. The high schools do accept some migrants with foreign hukou’s but the number is small. High schools in the countryside tend to be very low quality, so if the family has hopes of the child going to college, they need to scrape the money together to get a local hukou and get the child into a city high school.
The school we were going to was the first of four migrant schools in town, built in 2001. It was built by the government. This school has about 1700 children, age 4 to 15 years; kindergarten (for which I believe tuition is charged)to middle school. There are 72 teachers, only 4 of whom are local residents, because the pay is lower than the local schools. Interestingly, this works out to about 24 students per teacher and yet we saw that most classrooms had 60 or more. The teachers either live at the school or elsewhere in housing paid for by the school.
In grade school the kid’s are taught math, Chinese and English. I’ve had number of Chinese tell me that English instruction is not very well done–they tend to teach flowery English words that even we don’t use, and in private schools the English teacher is just a figurehead to give the school prestige. That’s why you’ll find that most fluent English speakers here have learned it by watching American television and movies.
In middle school, science, social science, geography, history, and art are added to the curriculum. Most teachers teach 1 major class like math and then music or P.E. or art. The population of students tends to be very fluid as the parents move around to find jobs. Some kids are only there for 2 to 3 months. The headmaster said the biggest problem the school faces is the need for more space–I can vouch for that!
We split up into groups of 3 plus an interpretor and headed to our classrooms to give our English lessons.
The girl in the 3rd row with the red scarf and pink coat was the star of the class. The girl next to her in black and the girl in front in the gold jacket were also very good.
Our mission was to teach the kids 5 English words: Christmas, Santa Claus, Christmas tree, Candy Cane, and Presents. They also learned our names. They could remember Debbi easily because it’s similar to Chinese; Deborah was harder–they got the first part but not the last; and my name–well, they could pronounce it if prompted, but couldn’t remember it. Our interpretor finally told them to just call me “Mama laoshi” (mama teacher).
The three of us teaching in this classroom, also sang “We wish you a merry Christmas” in Chinese and then taught them the English version.
Next we were supposed to get volunteers to stand up and complete this sentence: “This Christmas, I will give ________ a ___________. We had been told that they would be very resistant to this. In Chinese classrooms, the students, en mass, repeat, repeat, repeat whatever it is that they are learning. They are not generally called on individually, so to stand out by standing up and answering a question is just not in their bag of tricks. Our solution was to give out prizes–pens, puzzle books, and chips for those at least willing to stand up and give it a try.
We didn’t tell them we were going to give prizes so at first we had no takers. But then the girl in the third row stood up and made her sentence. Even after the roughly 60(!) other kids saw what she had gotten, they still weren’t willing to participate. Our star, however wanted to answer every question and at first we wouldn’t give her a second try. But soon we realized that we were only going to be able to bribe 4 or 5 other kids, besides her, so we just kept letting the same kids answer. Only a few of the girls and eventually one or two boys were willing to participate. It was hard for me to believe that the possibility of prizes couldn’t spur the kids on.
Last, the kids were allowed to ask us questions. The favorite was “What is your hobby?”, clearly a phrase they had been taught, and which some new students were willing to stand up and say.
The next post will be about our visit to see an elderly couple in Nanxun.