For the Media

2011 China Experience: Shanghai and the Western Shanghai Experimental School

By Sarah Davis, Pearson Foundation

We recently arrived in Shanghai , a city known for its financial history, as well as its hybrid-like East-West culture (for more on Shanghai, visit here). In a very short period of time, we visited the Bund (外滩), the Shanghai World Financial Center (known by local people as “the beer bottle opener”), an outdoor market (XinTianDi ; 新天地), the Jade Buddha Temple  (玉佛禅寺), Yu Garden  (豫园), and a silk factory.

Our most valuable experience so far was at the Western Shanghai Experimental School  (SES). SES is  a relatively new, well resourced, local public school. The campus is beautiful. The school is “experimental” in that it is a research institution, geared toward testing new teaching methods. After a tour, Mr. Li, the principal of SES, described the school’s policies in general and answered our ATE teachers’ questions about the teachers and students.  Our teachers learned that the school’s design and instruction were geared toward helping students become wholly developed.

Teacher’s Perspectives

Our ATE teachers took away a broad spectrum of impressions from the experience, as evidenced in their comments below on the SES students’ maturity, their approach to homework, the importance of family in Chinese education, the school’s rigorous schedule and its resources, and even the importance of music as a communication tool.

Mary Pinkston, a high school math teacher from Delaware, and Debra Calvino, a high school math teacher from New York, discuss their thoughts on SES in a video to be posted soon.

“Throughout the visit at the Western Shanghai Experimental School, I sensed the vital importance of English to the school’s curriculum. The teacher who gave us the tour told us that applicants to the school are interviewed and evaluated for their English proficiency and potential more than for their learning habits or personalities, which surprised me. It was clear that the school and the students saw mastery of English as essential to their future success, and that they were very cognizant of China’s relationship to the rest of the world. I feel that this global perspective is exceptionally important, but I rarely see my students showing interest in or curiosity about other cultures. I would venture that the students we have met this week know much more about the United States than our students do about modern China! As we travel through China, it becomes increasingly clear to me that my colleagues and I need to help our students learn more about China, and that we need to help them understand the importance of learning not only about the history but also about current issues around the world.”
Carole Margolis, high school English teacher, Massachusetts

“During our visit today at the SES school, I had an excellent student who adopted me; she explained to me what her school was like, asked me about my school… She was very clear about her path. She wanted to see America. She wanted to come see me in America. She was a very different type of student than I’m used to seeing in America. The focus was entirely different.”
Kathleen Benedict, high school language arts and social studies teacher, Tennessee

“The China that I came to expect is not here. It might be in the western part of the country, but it’s not here in the big cities… I can’t see any evidence of the communist China I was raised to believe was the reality here… One interesting thing is we talked to kids about homework, and one of [our] teachers asked what they do with homework. They asked, ‘what do you mean?’ They all do their homework. The culture here is about one family, one child… That might have something to do with how well they perform in education…The students are more motivated [in part] because of the parents’ expectations.”
Brian Berg, high school math teacher, Washington

“The most valuable thing Professor Li said was: ‘Diversity for development and success for all is our focus.’ In education isn’t that what we are all striving for? The most wonderful thing is that China considers this experimental school part of their own reform.”
Karen Gorringe, elementary teacher, Utah

“These students see a value in their education in a way our students do not… I find it very interesting that Chinese students see reaching out of their country as a thing that will get them ahead as adults.”
Terri Vest, high school English, social studies and psychology teacher, Vermont

“The young people that I met today were motivated to succeed and get a good education so they would have an easier life. Studying and homework are a means to an end.”
Tom Mead, language arts, mathematics, and science teacher, South Dakota

“I immediately noticed the abundance of vegetation planted around the school. There was a deliberate effort to incorporate trees, flowers, and shrubs into the school landscape…the school was very clean and nicely decorated, bringing a pleasant atmosphere for the students.”
Brian Sievers, high school math teacher, Illinois

“This trip has greatly increased my perspective of the global society. My ‘aha moment’ was going to the school in Shanghai… It’s really neat to see that kids are kids, no matter where you are, that all children are really the most valuable asset that any country has.”
Drue Haarsager, social studies teacher, North Dakota

“Music is a universal language. My school visits here in China have really reinforced that.”
Luke Merchlewitz, elementary teacher, Minnesota


“The teachers are really valued at that school; and you could tell, just by talking to the principal, the teachers, and the students.”
Veronica Ellingson, high school physics teacher, Wisconsin

“The school was top of the pile in test scores and achievements. They had very modern facilities and the students were very well behaved. Again, kids are kids, but these students were highly motivated to learn.”
Craig Williams, elementary teacher, Wyoming

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