For the Media

2011 China Experience: Beijing to Shanghai: Education Begins at Home

2011 China Experience: Beijing to Shanghai: Education Begins at Home

From June 22 to July 1, 26 of the 2011 NEA Foundation Awards for Teaching Excellence recipients are spending 10 days on an educational and cultural tour of China.

Our partners from the Pearson Foundation are helping us document the trip by sharing photos, videos, and daily excerpts about educators’ experiences and observations about education in China.  The tour is designed and led by EF Educational Tours, and is sponsored by the NEA Foundation and the Pearson Foundation. Please follow us on the journey!

By Sarah Davis, Pearson Foundation


On our last day in Beijing, we went to a traditional Chinese neighborhood called a hutong(胡同). In the past, government officials lived in these neighborhoods. Now, ordinary people live there. According to Simon, our tour guide, the hutongs are really great places for retired people.* For them, it is a safe place with a sense of community. There, we practiced Tai Chi and visited a family’s residence, exploring a theme that often arises when we have discussions about education – that education begins at home. In the Chinese hutong, we saw that such family support often extends throughout multiple generations.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi 太极拳)is a traditional Chinese martial art that involves slow, rhythmic movements designed to develop and support “Qi” (energy/lifeforce). In China, many people practice Tai Chi in the parks regularly. While we were in the hutong, Simon arranged for us to take a Tai Chi lesson from a master. Everyone practiced the subtle movements involved, and several of us are still feeling the effects of “sit,” which is a squat that, if held properly and repeated, may provide benefits similar to the “chair pose” in yoga – but also elicits a certain angst in those of us who don’t squat regularly.  🙂

A Typical Courtyard

While we were in the hutong, we took rickshaws to a family’s courtyard. According to the owner, his home had been in his family for five generations. He described some of the history of the house and the benefits of living there. He enjoyed living near to his granddaughter’s school and his friends. Simon later explained that many retirees take care of grandchildren while parents are at work, and as a result, grandparents are a central part of their grandchildren’s education.

Driving Question

During this professional development tour, ATE teachers have been asked to explore a topic and create a driving question to focus their explorations. One of the teachers, Bob Gustas, is particularly interested in how students and teachers interact. While in the hutong, Bob spoke with some students and parents from a nearby high school about their school, as well as how teachers are perceived in China.

“When I asked the kids if they wanted to be a teacher, I didn’t expect them to respond so glowingly that they would. Surprisingly, their curriculum is so strong on math and science, yet many of them responded that they wanted to do something else.”

Bob Gustas, 8th grade math teacher, St. John, Indiana

Further Exploration and Perspectives

Later, in Shanghai, Bob and another ATE teacher, Kathy Steinhof, took the opportunity to talk with a family about education at the hotel restaurant. Their comments are included in the videolog coming soon.

*Simon later described that the retirees in China enjoy many benefits, like receiving approximately four-fifths of their income in retirement. This generally leads to more retirees in parks,  playing games, dancing, practicing Tai Chi and/or relaxing.