[2015-07-09] Teachers' Pledge:
Let us engage as green leaves!
Visiting Journal: School # 63 in Qinghai

In the morning of June 25, 2015, our group of five adults and four children were driving on the way from the spacious city streets of Xining, Qinghai, following Teacher Qi Chun-E's lead to arrive at a Shin Shin elementary school in a remote countryside, one of the fifteen schools that are supported by Shin Shin Educational Foundation (SSEF) in Qinghai. We were very grateful that Teacher Qi led the way in person, and saved us a lot of time. Although her family lives in the Xining city, Teacher Qi still lives on campus because of her teaching position, in order to avoid consuming time in traffic. Purposely, she came back to city this time to show us the way.

This school is located in a restricted area of Qinghai, so foreigners need to apply for a special visiting permit. Many thanks to the coordination of Mr. Zhang Xiaolong and Ms. Wang Zhenghua of Qinghai Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, and the assistance of Xu Junyi, a SSEF volunteer as the Qinghai RM (Regional Manager). They spent a lot of time and effort going through the relevant procedures for us. Among them, Ms. Wang Zhenghua even personally escorted us to visit the school.

This was our first time to visit a Shin Shin school, so adults and children were very excited and curious. We chose this school, because we care about the SSEF eLearning program. Last year (2014) in October, SSEF helped the school install a virtual desktop computer lab, and successfully put it into use. Early 2015, we began planning to visit the school in person. In addition to understanding the usage of computer lab, we also wanted to understand the situation of their software and hardware facilities through the field visit, as well as their needs in education and life through face to face communication with the principal and teachers, and interaction with the school children. As parents of elementary school children, we also wanted our children in the Bay Area of U.S. to learn the focus and hard work from the China's rural children, and cherish their own opportunities in education. In order to prepare this visit, we read the computer lab usage report, went through the history records of SSEF follow-up programs for this school, and prepared SSEF annual reports/DVDs and some English books as a gift.

Driving from the city to the countryside, we saw shepherds herding flock across the street, and we noticed that the road gradually became narrower and bumpier, and the surrounding buildings got older and shabbier. However, we were very pleased to see their school buildings neatly standing in the old town. The school was originally renovated in 2003 using funds donated by a SSEF donor. A few years afterwards, this school received SSEF donated books. Since the number of students became too low, the school was merged to a center elementary school in the same town, bringing 60 sets of desks and chairs and a few pieces of teaching equipment and sporting goods.

Principal Wang Yongfu and several teachers, including Qi Chun-E (English teacher) and Li Zengkui (computer teacher) warmly greeted us and invited us to a meeting in the principal's office. They talked about the history and current status of the school in great detail. Thanks to SSEF Regional Managers' Coordinator Yang Yiqing's School Assessment Form, we had clearly defined target questions to ask the school staff during the meeting. The center school was first established in 1912 in a temple, and later was rebuilt several times. Thanks to the government's and the community's concern and support after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, the school buildings were rebuilt and renovated three years ago using national funds provided by the "School Safety" project. Currently, the incoming number of students is stable and there are no plans to merge the school. Nevertheless, the number of sixth graders greatly increased since the beginning of 2015, so the 6th grade was moved to a middle school nearby, thus reducing the total number of students from 800 to 500.

The basic school facilities are in good condition, but the sewage system needs to be improved. The school has two teaching buildings. The old school building was built 10 years ago. The new building with spacious and bright classrooms was built in 2012. This year, the school's playground has just been paved with concrete. During recess, students do eye exercises and stretching exercises on the playground.

The school has a kitchen, that provides free lunch to boarding students, and low-cost (1 Yuan) lunch to commuting students. The dinning hall looks clean and tidy, but its capacity is not sufficient for all the teachers and students to have meals at the same time. We suggested that they adopt the lunches model in U.S. California, that allows students to dine in batches, to alleviate the cafeteria space issues. Building's sinks and toilets do not have good drainage system. School buildings are surrounded by countryside, without urban planning drainage systems, so they discharge wastewater into a pit dug in the courtyard below. If it is raining, the sewage overflow to the surface. So in summer, they lock the toilets in school buildings, and use the outdoor waterless "dry toilets" instead, while in winter the building's toilets are unlocked for use.

Washing Sinks Dinning Hall
Overflow Sewage Student Dormitory
The dormitory overall looks clean and spacious, except for the same drainage problem. During the visit, several construction workers are installing office windows on the first floor, to easily monitor the entrance. All students from 1st to 5th grade can live in the dormitory. The dormitory has 127 residents and a total capacity of 300. At 7PM, boarding students can watch CCTV news together in the cafeteria. After that, they also spend the night time studying in the same cafeteria. Every week, school buses regularly pick up or drop off students in different villages.

We asked about the issue of “left behind children”. About one fifth of the students are in this category, which is a smaller ratio compared to overall Qinghai's or national average (Detailed data refer to 2013 publication “Research Report on China's Rural Left-behind Children and Urban and Village Migrant Children Situation” by National Women Association Task Force. ). These children have been trained from a young age to be organized for their dormitory duty. It is admirable that they have learned to take care of themselves and their facilities.

We also visited the school library and classroom book corners. The library has a limited space with height adjustable “compact shelves" installed in 2011 using government's funds, containing about 27,000 books. Part of the books were donated by the "Dream Classroom" project and other charitable organizations. We saw plaques hanging on the wall, "Huang Yan Bin Foundation Library", "Hand in Hand Red Scarf book House" (2008), and "Golden LEAF Yucai Library - Chinese Writers Association, the China National Tobacco Corporation, the China Foundation for Literature" (2009). All books are managed by teachers. Teachers check out related curriculum books from the library to the book corners in the classrooms (teachers have the key to open shelves), then students can borrow books from the teachers.

Teacher Qi Chun-E said they are short of English books. We brought eight books in English, including seven children's books selected from the Silicon Valley YMCA organization's "Project Cornerstone" book series that help children build self-confidence, friendship and mutual assistance, and the values of life. In the discussion, we explained the significance of presenting these books. Usually in the Bay Area, parent volunteers are involved in their children's education. Monthly, they take off from work to read a book in the classroom, coordinate discussions with the children about the selected topics, and organize follow-up games. In the China's countryside, parents may be out to labor, or may lack time and ability to personally participate in educational activities. Teacher Qi said the head teachers can try to read these books to students and carry out similar discussion activities during class meetings. "Dream Classroom" also provides Chinese books with a similar focus on moral education. Another English book is "Silicon Valley" , an illustrated history of the U.S. Silicon Valley technology area. We gave it as a souvenir representing us, the visitors who flew from Silicon Valley to Qinghai for the school visit.

All the school's electronic teaching equipment was installed by government. To meet the national standards, each of the 12 classes is equipped a "class-to-class" network (similarly to Local Area Network), a whiteboard and a projector. In 2013, SSEF donated a set of MMU multimedia devices, which has been replaced with new equipment. Teacher Li Zengkui said the "class-to-class" network is not used because of no computers in the classroom. Providing computers in the classroom will enable students and teachers use the Internet more frequently than they use the computer lab. This model is already implemented in U.S. elementary schools, where students and teachers use computers directly in the classroom and access online educational resources. Currently, the school has 10 computers, allocated to teachers' and principal's office use.

The Computer lab was installed and put into use last Fall (2014) through SSEF. Grade 3-5 students have computer classes, twice per week. The computer lab opens from 8 am to 5pm. The main subjects include the computerized art paintings and online information query for supplementary curriculum materials. At present, the system uses Microsoft packaged software, without other software or courseware. Teacher Li Zengkui participated in SSEF's summer teachers' training, which was very rewarding to him. He reflected that problems occurred twice to the system, which could not be shut down properly, so they called the company in Shanghai for technical support, and they helped fix the problem quickly. He hoped that the computer teachers' training program can enhance the area in system installation. We referred to the computer lab report, and gladly learned that last winter, the computer lab was also open to community and hosted a software training for village doctors.

Since the school was holding simulated tests that day, we had only a little time to interact with children and visit classrooms and playgrounds during recess. We were grateful that our friends brought the sports goods to the school children. During recess, we did fun games together, and brought a lot of laughter to the school. These children are more healthy and active, sports-loving, enthusiastic in interaction with new friends, compared with the children in a smaller school that we visited previously in Hunan. On the one hand we were pleased to see this region of Qinghai is relatively well off. On the other hand, it is indeed worrisome that the imbalance of China's development has made negative impact on rural children's education.
Recess cleaning duty Recess interactions
Before the visit ended, we took a group photo with Principal Wang and some of the students. They are very grateful for SSEF's funding and care. Principal Wang emphasized that he will participate in the principals' training in Beijing in July, and the other four teachers will participate in teachers' training in Lanzhou (one in English, one in arts, two in IT), and they will surely learn a lot. Principal Wang mentioned that in the past they had more than forty teachers, but now only two dozen, because of the staff adjustment. We realized that the principals and teachers in remote villages and towns not only need to focus on the children's schoolwork, but also serve as the children's parents, to take care of their psychological and physiological health. What a difficult job! These dedicated teachers stay loyally at this position, just as their pledge under their photos says "Fruit is sweet, flowers are beautiful, let us engage as green leaves!". We hope more people will come to care, support and participate in rural education, so that there will be more leafy trees, more healthy and beautiful flowers, and more sweet and abundant fruit.