How Rural Education Can Be Turned Around – the Case of Dasendian

中文 English

Editor’s Note

This is a translation of an article originally published by the Charity Times (公益时报) in June 2019, and written by Zhang Mingmin (click here for the original). It talks about how a small rural primary school in Hebei Province, which was fated to be shut down due to its small size, managed instead to keep going and become a model of rural revitalization, implementing innovative programs to help the children realize their full potential. This was achieved thanks to the vision and hard work of the principal and of the China Zigen Association, and to the support of the Ma Yun Foundation and the Lego Group. 

 

On the day before China’s Children’s Day, which falls on the first of June, the Dasendian Primary School in Gehetou Township, Qinglong Manchu Autonomous County, Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province held a groundbreaking activity with Lego blocks, which they called “Creative Countryside, Creating a Children’s Day Dream”. The school’s 164 students and 11 teachers led the activity.

On the day, more than a hundred students and teachers from the Dasendian Primary School worked together creatively and used Lego to harness their inexhaustible imagination and build their ideal village youth palace. It was the first time the children got to use Lego. Compared to urban children, village children have less access to toys and other materials, but with the arrival of Lego this has now changed.

One would never think that this school (which is a “complete primary school”, meaning it teaches first to sixth grade) of 164 children could have weathered so many storms in the last few years. Several times it was nearly closed down due to a national policy of “removing and merging rural schools” (撤点并校).

With the support of different social forces, this village primary school that has been attacked by fate again and again has had a lucky break every time.

Social forces have injected life into the school by launching a “self-revolution” that activated the energies of the village, leading the school, parents, students and the village committee to interact freely and create a new culture of cooperative construction, governance and sharing.

In the end, the village primary school not only stuck to its roots, but also gradually grew to become a model for the revitalization of local villages.

 

Keeping its “Roots” in the Ground

In 2005, Zhao Yinfeng arrived in Dasendian Village Primary School, Gehetou Village, Qinglong Manchu Autonomous County, Qinghuangdao City, Hebei Province. When she first arrived there were only 15 students at the school, making it a “single-person village education point” (单人独校的乡村教学点). In the face of this situation, Zhao Yinfeng decided to stay.

At that time, a national educational reform aimed at the merging of village middle and primary schools was being implemented. According to the policy at the time, since Zhao Yinfeng’s Dasendian Primary School of 15 students didn’t have enough students to start courses and could only accept a new class every other year, it was listed as a target of the reform policy.

Zhao Yinfeng speaks candidly, admitting that due to its lack of students, the school’s basic conditions were bad, it had a high staff turnover rate and it couldn’t attract resources. Parents from the village and the neighbouring villages would rather send their children to a school with better conditions kilometres away then send them to Dasendian Primary School. For this reason, student numbers couldn’t increase.

“To put it clearly, the school’s conditions were not good enough”, as Zhao Yinfeng says to the Charity Times reporter.

In 2001, the state began pushing for an “educational reform” aimed at village middle and primary school distribution. What this meant was closing down village schools and sending students to a small number of schools in cities and towns.

A document issued by the State Council, entitled “Decision of the State Council on the Reform and Development of Basic Education“, stated in article 13 that local governments must “adjust the distribution of rural schools of compulsory education according to local conditions”, and expressed that “according to the principles that students should attend primary schools close by, middle schools should be more concentrated and educational resources should be optimized, and school distribution should be rationally planed and adjusted.”

In the educational field this decision was called “distribution adjustment,” but in civil society it’s known as “removing and merging rural schools” (撤点并校). Statistics show that during the fourteen years between 1997 and 2010, 371,470 primary schools were shut down. Among these, 302,099 were village primary schools, making up 81.3% of the total.

In 2008 “China Zigen”, a social organization that helps to support basic education in poor villages in China, arrived in Dasendian Primary School and started funding the school’s impoverished children. This gradually developed into projects to preserve the local cultural heritage and parental empowerment.

The arrival of China Zigen has given local villagers a new understanding of their children’s education and of their own lives. The most significant change is that parents are not sending their children to a school kilometres away anymore, but choosing to keep their children at Dasendian Primary School. Some parents from neighbouring villages are also sending their children there.

Over the past few years, the number of students at the Dasendian Primary School has soared, going from 15 children at the beginning of 2005 to 164 today. The improvement in resources not only increased the number of students in attendance, but also led more teachers to put down roots in the area. Originally the school only had Zhao Yinfeng, while today it has a total of 11 teachers.

微信图片_20190621030957 微信图片_20190621031504

Above, a photo of the old Dasendian on the left, and one of the village’s new areas on the right. Below, a photo of the school’s playground in the past, when there were very few children, next to one of what it looks like nowadays.

 

A Village Primary School’s Self-“Revolution”

In 2008, after Zigen arrived at the Dasendian primary school, the institution started to change. The village saw the changes brought by the social organization’s presence, and it begun seeing this school that had been listed as a target of the “removing and merging rural schoools” policy in a different light. Instead of seeing it just as a school that would be closed by this national policy, the villagers started encouraging the school to actively cooperate with the implementation of the social organization’s charity projects.

These changes at the Dasendian Primary School not only affected the students, but also led principal Zhao Yinfeng, previously its sole staff member, to launch a “revolution”.

After making all kinds of calculations, a brave idea came to Zhao Yinfeng. In 2008, the “Home and School Cooperative Construction Plan” (家校共建计划)was launched. This plan harnessed the power of the school’s students to mobilize their parents to participate in the school’s development and organize a parental training course to empower them. The county poverty alleviation office and the township government hired technical experts to train the parents in melon and fruit breeding, seedling pruning, and agricultural machinery use. The school is responsible for providing training on issues such as children’s education, students’ diets, and the care of left-behind children. China Zigen raised the funds to help protect local culture and preserve traditional folk songs.

As Zhao Yinfeng explains, “the “Home and School Cooperative Construction Plan” allows children and their parents to become part of the community and participate in the construction of the village. Every month, students take their parents on volunteer trips to the local retirement home to visit the elderly. Through the children’s behaviour it is possible to influence the parents, and the parents can see their children’s changes.”

The results of the “Home and School Cooperative Construction Plan” are obvious to all. China Zigen, the school, and the village collectively reported to the County Educational Bureau, and expressed their wish that the Dasendian Primary School should not be closed. The village party branch secretary also repeatedly advocated on their behalf. In 2015, the local county’s Education Administrative Department approved the decision to keep the Dasendian Primary School.

The “preservation” of the Dasendian Primary school was in part due to the “resource leverage effect” (资源杠杆效应), which encouraged the government, the villagers, the school, the parents and the children to work together to cooperatively construct, govern and share.

Since 2005, when Zhao Yinfeng took over the management of the Dasendian Primary School, until now, the school has taken on eleven teachers, but art education remains weak.

“The school only has one full-time music teacher, and the others are part time. The Physical Education teacher is also the 5th and 6th grade Math and Morality teacher. The art teacher is my husband”, explains Zhao Yinfeng. “Right now, the lack of art teachers at the school is a big shortcoming.”

Presently, against the backdrop of village revitalization, Dasendian is just a microcosm. Social resources are now pouring into the school in a steady flow. Choosing how to utilize these resources will be key.

“Thoughts determine solutions. Social organizations should serve students and teachers, help them to grow and develop. These kinds of social organizations we welcome. What is done must be done well. This is my understanding of cooperative resources,” says Zhao Yinfeng.

The appearance of the Jack Ma Foundation and the Lego company have now hastened the arrival of Zhao Yinfeng’s Village Primary School’s Self-“Revolution”.

 

Social forces supporting rural children

The Ma Yun Charity Foundation is always endeavouring to “make every child in rural areas become the best version of him/herself”. Apart from the “Ma Yun Rural Teachers Plan” (马云乡村教师计划),the “Ma Yun Rural Principals Plan” (马云乡村校长计划), the “Ma Yun Rural Normal School Students Plan” (马云乡村师范生计划), and the “Ma Yun Rural Boarding Schools Plan” (马云乡村寄宿学校计划), the “Ma Yun Rural Children’s Halls Plan” (马云乡村少年宫计划) was further carried out in the Rural Principals Plan’s award-winning principals’ schools in 2018.

As Yu Xiuhong, the executive secretary of the Ma Yun Charity Foundation, explains: “Helping every child in rural areas to become the best version of him/herself is the ultimate goal of Ma Yun’s rural education plans. However, if our plans were directly targeted at children, we would face two main problems: the great number of children and our foundation’s limited ability.”

After deep research and consideration, the Ma Yun Charity Foundation finally figured out a set of paths to support a system to create talents in rural education. First of all, as teachers will play the most critical role in the children’s growth, the “Ma Yun Rural Teachers Plan” was established. Secondly, considering the principals’ role in supporting and inspiring teachers as school leaders, the “Ma Yun Rural Principals Plan” was correspondently carried out. Thirdly, the “Ma Yun Normal University Students Plan” was then established for those new teachers who graduated from professional normal schools and joined rural schools. From new teachers to rural teachers and to rural principals, an interdependent supporting system was built.

After the “Ma Yun Rural Principals’ Plan” was initiated on July 4th 2016, 20 outstanding rural principals nationwide were selected annually to receive 500,000 yuan of support. Specifically, 100,000 yuan is used to help them improve their life quality. Another 100,000 yuan is used for leadership development, including an international study tour, leadership courses, and collaboration with senior principals. The remaining 300,000 yuan is used as a fund for the establishment of rural children’s halls, which helps award-winning principals to develop a new rural education model.

Only when the principals’ life quality is improved can they be free from personal worries. After their leadership skills are improved, their working ability and methods will receive a serious upgrade. When the new rural education model is explored and developed, principals and teachers will obtain a bigger platform to realize their ambitions, with rural children enabled to see a whole new world, and to stand at the same starting line as urban children. The 500,000 yuan of financial support in these three areas will gradually contribute to rural education.

In 2017 Zhao Yinfeng, the principal of Da Sendian’s primary school, won the “Ma Yun Rural Principals” award. She was granted 500,000 yuan in total, with 100,000 yuan used for improving her quality of life, 100,000 for personal leadership development, and 300,000 for the establishment of the “Ma Yun Rural Children’s Hall”, which is an essential part of the “Ma Yun Rural Principals Plan”.

In 2018, the “Ma Yun Rural Children’s Halls Plan” was carried out in a number of award-winning principals’ schools. As Yu Xiuhong says, “the Children’s halls platform is still looking for more high-quality resources, including cooperation with enterprises, to ensure that children can study happily with their potential constantly exploited and their IQ and EQ better cultivated. It’s not only about learning academic knowledge, they should also be equipped with adequate social skills and a strong sense of responsibility.”

 

Holding up the power of education through entertainment

Resource rooms provided by schools are now an indispensable space in the children’s halls. Built in a unified style designed by professional companies, these rooms are equipped with basic equipment such as iPads and VR glasses, encouraging children to improve themselves through play.

The children’s halls have three main points: for the children to see the world, see the future, and develop themselves. First of all, the halls allow them to experience the charm of technology that most rural children today still have little chance to access. Secondly, the children’s halls cooperate with the Lego Group, the Forbidden City’s Palace Museum, and the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum Museum to develop targeted online courses that can allow the children to have a virtual reality experience in the halls. Finally, these children’s halls will also provide various courses in music, sports, and arts in the future.

Up to now the Ma Yun Charity Foundation has already established 14 rural children’s halls, with new forms of history, technology, and artistic activities provided. In the next three years, rural children’s halls are expected to spread to ten other provinces including Shanxi, Zhejiang, Hunan, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, Yunnan, Henan, Hebei, and Tibet.

As one of the cooperation partners, the Lego Group will provide toy blocks for every children hall’s play lessons. Kathrine Kirk Muff, the Lego Group’s global vice president for social responsibility, explains that “regardless of whether it is the countryside or the city, education through entertainment is important for all children. Rural education is an essential part of China’s education as a whole, but compared with urban children, rural children always have less access to playing materials and opportunities. In future the Lego Group will focus on the children who lack opportunities to play, including rural children, and create more opportunities for their growth.”

In future, the Lego Group plans to provide more Chinese rural schools with material donations and teacher-training based on the concept of “education through entertainment”. High-quality Lego blocks will be given to rural children who have fewer playing opportunities to promote their development and cultivate their core competencies, including the abilities for innovation, collaboration, critical thinking and solving complex problems. This project is expected to reach more than 30,000 rural students and 300 teachers.

This coming July the children will move into the new school building, where the children’s hall and the Lego blocks await them.

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社会力量赋能村小 一场把“根”留住的自我“革命”

“六一”前夕,位于河北省秦皇岛市青龙满族自治县隔河头乡大森店村小学,一场别开生面的“创想乡村,筑梦六一”公益主题乐高积木颗粒拼搭活动在这里上演,全校164个孩子和11名老师是这场活动的主角。

当天,数百名大森店村小学的学生通过创意拼搭环节,运用乐高积木颗粒发挥无穷的想象力,拼砌自己心目中理想的乡村少年宫。这是孩子们第一次接触乐高积木颗粒,与城市孩子相比,乡村孩子在获得玩乐材料和玩乐机会方面会更加缺乏,这种现状因乐高的到来正在改变。

但又何曾想到,这所如今容纳着164名孩子的村小(属“完全小学”,一至六年级),在数年前却几经风波,多次差点被国家“撤点并校”政策给撤销。

在多方社会力量的参与建设下,村小一次次与“命运”抗争,又一次次与“幸运”牵手。

社会力量注入的一滩活水,将村小的能量激活并发起一场自我“革命”,带动学校、家长、学生、村委有机互动,形成共建、共治、共享的新风尚。

最终,村小不仅把“根”留住,还逐渐成为了当地乡村振兴的典范。

把“根”留住

2005年,赵银凤来到河北省秦皇岛市青龙满族自治县隔河头乡大森店村小学校长任校长,初来乍到的学校就15个学生,属于单人独校的乡村教学点,面对这样的现状赵银凤选择了坚守。

此时,一场针对全国农村中小学中心布局的教育改革——“撤点并校”正在积极推进中,按照当时政策,由于赵银凤所在的大森店村小学学生逐年招生人数不达开班标准,只能采用隔年招生的办法,这让仅有15名学生的学校被纳入撤点并校的对象。

对于每年的生源不足,赵银凤坦言,学校基础条件差,留不住人才,引不来资源。该村和邻村的家长们宁可将孩子送到数十公里外条件较好的学校,也不愿意在大森店乡小学就读,这使得学校每年招生的生源上不去。

“一句话,学校条件不行。”赵银凤对《公益时报》记者表示。

2001年,国家正式开始推行一场对全国农村中小学中心布局的“教育改革”。具体说来,就是大量撤销农村原有的中小学,使学生集中到小部分城镇学校。

这份由国务院出台的名为《国务院关于基础教育改革与发展的决定》的文件,第十三条要求地方政府“因地制宜调整农村义务教育学校布局”,表示要“按照小学就近入学、初中相对集中、优化教育资源配置的原则,合理规划和调整学校布局。”

这一决定,在教育界被简称为“布局调整”,在民间,则被简称为“撤点并校”。

有统计数据表明,从1997年到2010年的14年间,全国减少小学371470所,其中农村小学减少302099所,占全国小学总减少量的81.3%。

2008年,一家致力于支持中国贫困乡村基础教育的社会组织“中国滋根”来到河头乡大森店小学,开始资助该校贫困学生,并逐步发展到支持当地乡土文化传承和家长赋能培训。

中国滋根的到来,让当地村民对孩子教育和自生生活有了新的认识。最显著的变化是家长们不在将自家孩子送往临近数公里外的,而选择纷纷将其留在大森店小学就读,而一些邻村的家长也将孩子送入该校就读。

近几年间,大森店小学就读的学生数量激增,从最初2005年的15个孩子发展到了今天164个孩子。学校资源条件的改善除了引来学生数量的变化,也带动了教师在当地扎根的数量,由原先只有赵银凤一人,发展到现在的11名教师。

左:大森店村旧貌     右:大森店村新区

左:大森店小学旧貌(15人)   右:大森店小学新颜

村小的自我“革命”

2008年,中国滋根来到大森店小学后,学校逐步发生起变化,村里看到社会组织的入驻给学校带来的改变,对于被纳入撤点并校对象的大森店小学有了新的认识,关注点从当初准备撤点并校转变为支持发展,鼓励学校积极配合社会组织的公益项目落地实施。

大森店小学的改变,不仅使得当地就读学生尝到甜头,也让原来这个单人独校的校长赵银凤发起了一场“革命”。

多方合计后,一个大胆的想法在赵银凤脑海中浮现。

2008年,“家校共建计划”发起,用学校孩子的力量动员家长参与到学校发展之中,在学校开设家长培训班,为家长赋能。由县扶贫办、乡政府聘请专业技术能手为学生家长培训瓜果育种、苗木修剪、农机使用等技术,学校方面负责子女教育、学生饮食、关爱留守儿童等方面培训。中国滋根为校方筹集经费,助其民间传统曲艺秧歌传承,保护乡土文化。

赵银凤说,“‘家校共建计划’让孩子与家长走进社区参与村庄建设,学生们每月都会带着家长组成大手拉小手的义工队,进入当地老年公寓慰问,通过孩子的行为来影响家长,让家长看到孩子的改变。”

“家校共建计划”的开展成果有目共睹,最终,由中国滋根、学校、村里三方集体向县教育局报告,希望能够保留大森店小学,该村村支书也多次为此奔走急呼,2015年,当地县教育行政主管部门批复决定保留大森店小学。

大森店小学的“保住“得益于,社会力量落地后带来资源杠杆效应,撬动着政府、村民、学校、家长和学生,让其携手共建、共治、共享。

从2005年赵银凤接手大森店小学,截至目前学校有了11位老师,但艺术教育课程仍显薄弱。

“学校就一个专职音乐老师,其余均是兼任。体育老师也都是由5、6年级的数学和思想品德课老师兼任,美术课就是我老公来教画画。“赵银凤说,“现在,乡村学校艺术老师不足仍然是个很大的短板。”

当前,在乡村振兴的大背景,大森店小学只是一个缩影,而后续引来的社会资源却源源不断,这对于校长赵银凤来说如何选择则成为关键。

“思路决定出路,对于社会组织合作应该真正服务到学生和老师,帮助其成长和发展,这样的社会组织我们欢迎,既然做就要做好,这是我对于合作资源的理解。”赵银凤说。

马云公益基金会与乐高集团的出现令赵银凤村小的自我“革命”来的更快。

社会力量助力孩子成长

马云公益基金会一直为践行“让每个乡村孩子成为最好的自己”而努力,除了“马云乡村教师计划”、“马云乡村校长计划”、“马云乡村师范生计划”、“马云乡村寄宿制学校计划”之外,2018年,“乡村少年宫计划”也陆续在“乡村校长计划”获奖者所在学校落地实施。

马云公益基金会执行秘书长于秀红表示“帮助乡村孩子成为最好的自己是马云乡村教育计划的终极目标,但如果单纯直接面对孩子,一个数量多;二是基金会能力也有限。”

通过调研思考,马云公益基金会得出一整套乡村教育人才体系的支持路径。首先,“教师群体”会给孩子成长起到最核心的作用,创立‘马云乡村教师计划’;其次,“校长群体”是一个学校的领导者,能够给与教师激励和支持,创立‘马云乡村校长计划’;再次,“师范生群体”是专业师范学校毕业去到乡村一线的新教师,创立‘马云师范生计划’,从新教师到乡村教师再到乡村校长,这三者间就形成了系列支持体系。

2016年7月4日,马云公益基金会启动“马云乡村校长计划”,每年从全国范围内的乡村学校评选出20位优秀乡村校长,为每人提供价值50万元的支持。其中,10万元用于帮助改善个人生活;10万元用于领导力提升,包括参与国际游学、领导力课堂、跟岗时间及资深校长结对提升;30万元作为实践基金用于所在学校建立乡村少年宫,帮助获奖校长开拓新乡村教育模式。

个人生活改善了,就解除了后顾之忧;领导力提升了,工作能力和工作方法就有了质的飞跃,知道劲该往哪里使;新乡村教育模式拓展了,校长和老师们有了施展抱负的更大舞台,孩子们也看到了前所未有的崭新世界,跟城里孩子站在了同一起跑线上。这50万元资金支持的三个方向,是逐层递进的关系,所起到的作用也是逐步升级的,从局部到整体、从个人的层面上升到农村教育的大局。

2017年,大森店村小学校长赵银凤获得了当年的“马云乡村校长”荣誉,奖励总计50万资金,10万用于改善个人生活,10万用于个人能力提升,30万用于马云乡村少年宫建设,

“马云乡村少年宫”是“马云乡村校长计划”中重要配套一环。

2018年,“马云乡村少年宫”陆续在获奖者所在学校落地实施。

于秀红表示,“少年宫这个平台期待有更多优质资源,包括企业资源合作加入,让孩子在快乐中学习,不断发挥潜能,更好培养孩子们智商、情商、爱商。不仅只是学习知识,还应有充足的社交能力和责任心。”

坚信‘寓教于乐’的力量

学校提供硬件教室成为少年宫的必备空间,通过专业的设计公司形成统一风格,同时添置iPad、VR眼镜等基础设备,让孩子们在玩耍中学习,提升自我。

少年宫定位定位于三点,看世界、见未来、育自己。首先,让孩子体验科技的魅力,但多数乡村孩子如今还鲜有机会触碰。其次,引入通识教育课程,乐高集团、故宫博物院、秦始皇陵博物院合作,定向开发在线课程,让孩子们在少年宫VR体验;最后,少年宫未来会安排音、体、美的艺术类课程。

此前,马云公益基金会已建成了14间乡村少年宫实体空间,提供了不同于传统形式的历史、科技、艺术等少年宫活动内容,预计在未来三年乡村少年宫还将覆盖到包括陕西,浙江,湖南,甘肃,内蒙古,四川,云南,河南,河北、西藏等10个省份和自治区。

作为合作方之一,乐高集团将为每所乡村少年宫赞助儿童玩乐课积木。

乐高集团全球社会责任副总裁Kathrine Kirk Muff表示,无论城市还是乡村,从玩乐中学习对所有孩子都很重要。乡村孩子教育对整个中国教育是非常重要的一部分,但与城市孩子相比,乡村孩子在获得玩乐材料和玩乐机会方面会更加缺乏。未来,乐高集团将在中国重点关注包括乡村孩子在内的缺乏玩乐机会的儿童群体,为孩子成长创造更多机会。”

今后,乐高集团还将为更多中国乡村学学校提供物资捐赠和“寓教于乐”理念教师培训,将富有创意的高品质乐高玩乐体验带给更多缺乏玩乐机会的乡村儿童,推动他们的成长和发展,培养其核心能力,包括创新能力、协作能力、批判性思维和解决复杂问题的能力等,预计将惠及超过3万名乡村学生和300名教师。

这个即将到来的这个7月,孩子们就将搬入新的校舍,那里有少年宫和乐高积木颗粒正在等着她们。

Translated by Jessie Gammon and Xinling Luo

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