Principals begin exchange of education cultures

Educating upcoming generations is a priority in every culture, even if the methods used to bring about that education vary widely.

Ms. Xiao Jumei, a principal from a Xi’an high school in the Shaanxi Province of China, and HRVHS Principal Karen Neitzel are embarking on an adventure of education-culture exchange, along with nine other pairs of educators from Oregon and China.

Called the U.S.-China Administrator Shadowing Project-Oregon/Shaanxi, the plan aims to bring administrators from each country to spend a week in their partner’s shoes — learning firsthand about ideas, infrastructure and practices between the two as they apply to high school education.

“This is a very great opportunity to exchange ideas between the U.S. and China,” said Xiao through interpreter Huang Minchun — another educator working at HRVHS this year teaching Mandarin. Xiao has already visited schools in Boston and New York City.

According to Xiao, her hometown (Xi’an) in Shaanxi Province in central China is the site of the famous ancient Terracotta Warrior Army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. She also notes that the area is famous for the fine art of paper-cut paintings.

Xiao, whose demeanor is friendly, effusive and inviting, notes that each culture’s education practices have advantages and disadvantages. She was particularly struck by the small class sizes in the U.S. According to Xiao and Huang, average class sizes are between 40 and 50 students in China.

She also marveled at the quality of the sports programs and facilities at every school. In Xiao’s district, extra-curricular programs are focused more narrowly on folk dancing, calligraphy, limited sports clubs and marksmanship skills.

On a visit to Wy’east Middle School, Xiao was particularly impressed with the number and quality of the soccer fields for a pre-high school program.

Another aspect of American-style education brought observations from Xiao.

“There is much more interaction between the teacher and the students here. The students are allowed to do more; be more active ... to be more happy in class,” she said.

In contrast, Xiao, when asked, noted that Chinese teachers are much more strict and command more attention.

In most of China, she said, it is the teachers who move between classrooms, ensuring long-term classmate relationships. Xiao was struck by the speed with which hundreds of students in every grade move between classes. She offered wonder at how the “children do not get lost” with all their travel.

Chinese education, according to Huang and Xiao, is restricted to academic classes alone. When touring HRV, Xiao was surprised to find a metal shop, greenhouses, small-animal rearing and other arts offerings. The idea of “electives” of any kind was novel and something she found very interesting, offering potential for her students.

Neitzel will soon be hosted in China by Xiao and her school families over spring break and will be making similar observations, hoping to take away some new administrative and curricular ideas as a result of her visit there. Her trip will be chronicled in a follow-up article.

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