Chinese educators observe Howard schools

September 25, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun reporter

On his whirlwind tour of schools in China this spring, Howard County School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin saw firsthand the stark differences between education systems in the United States and the Asian country.

For one thing, classes with 40 to 60 students are typical there. Education in China is compulsory only until ninth grade, and students are required to take an exam to enter high school.

Nearly six months later, Cousin hosted a group of Chinese educators from Tianjin, who came to Howard County last week to learn more about American public schools. School officials hope their visit is only the latest cultural exchange between Howard County and school districts in China.

During Cousin's trip to several Chinese cities, including Tianjin, he signed co- operative agreements with several school districts to explore possibilities of forming cultural exchange and sister-school programs.

"This is a genesis of something we hope will grow," Cousin said.

ShuChing Chen, executive director of the Center for Cross-cultural Exchanges in Williamsville, N.Y., which facilitated the Chinese delegation's trip, said school officials from both countries can learn from each other.

"Since China is facing a lot of challenges because of modernization, they feel they should learn something from other countries like the U.S.," Chen said. "On the other hand, the American education system is facing challenges of globalization."

He added, "It's not necessarily, you're better than me or I'm better than you. It's about learning the [educational] strengths of China and the [educational] strengths of the United States."

The five-member delegation represented the Hexi school district in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, which oversees 90,000 students.

The group included a high school and an elementary school principal, an English teacher, an education commissioner and an administrator in charge of facilities.

The visitors toured Centennial High School and Worthington Elementary School, both of which have sizable Chinese populations, school officials said.

At Centennial, in Ellicott City, where Principal Scott Pfeifer said Chinese-American students make up 5 percent to 10 percent of the school's 1,500-student population - the visitors experienced the mad rush of students going to class, were baffled by the 10 a.m. lunch period and snapped pictures of students working out in the weight room.

The Chinese educators marveled at the smaller class sizes - up to 25 students. And they were surprised by the length of the school day. In China, high school students are in school nearly 12 hours or longer each day.

"Perhaps, students here have more freedom," observed Liu Shutian, who teaches English at a high school in Tianjin. "By saying the students have more freedom here, I mean the students have to study much more there. They have fewer leisure hours in China."

They listened intently as guidance counselor Elizabeth Coe explained an initiative to help ninth-graders make a smooth transition into high school.

They asked for a second yearbook to take home, adding to Pfeifer's gifts, which included a stuffed-animal Eagle, the school's mascot, and a T-shirt.

At Worthington, the group met the school system's only Asian administrator, Assistant Principal Florence Hu, who speaks Chinese.

There, they learned about parent volunteers, cultural arts programs and extra reading lessons for pupils. The group also observed a fourth-grade gifted-and-talented math class.

Zhang Xue Zheng, vice commissioner of the Hexi District Education Bureau, said he was impressed with the school system's emphasis on meeting the individual needs of students, ranging from gifted-and-talented programs to special education to resources for children of recent immigrants.

"They don't discriminate against anybody, and they come up with a plan to meet their needs," Zhang said through an interpreter, Iris Chao, a parent at Swansfield Elementary School.

The trip made a positive impact on Zhang, who said he will take some ideas back to his country.

"At the heart, we are all the same," he said. "We want the best for all our kids and help them succeed."

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