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Learning outside the classroom

MANY people view learning as an experience that can only take place within the school grounds. Children are ferried around various classrooms through the day like robots being programmed, each lesson inputting more and more data into their hungry processors.

Schools are seen as giant batteries into which these robots can be plugged for eight hours a day.

However long and dull the day might seem when you are forced to endure it, you might be surprised to learn that a person spends less than 4 percent of their life actually attending school. It is, of course, impossible to acquire all the knowledge and experience for a fulfilled life in such a short time.

More important, education doesn't stop when the teacher leaves the room or the student goes home for the night.

Below are places in Shanghai that are well worth a visit because they provide opportunities for fun and independent learning, as well as relaxation.


Poster Art Centerter

This tiny private museum is hard to find, hidden away in the basement of an apartment block in a compound on Huashan Road. But smiling guards have come to recognize inquisitive young historians looking to discover more about the history of China and are more than happy to point the way.

Once inside, the familiar blocky artwork of Chinese posters unfolds, arranged by decade, and all accompanied by explanatory text in good English and Chinese.

It is the collection of Yang Peiming, who has been collecting posters for nearly 16 yeas.

It began as a hobby, but he now has assembled more than 5,000 items.

Most of the posters made between 1949 and 1979 are an uneasy mix of fine art and heavy political symbolism.

Late Chairman Mao Zedong is represented as a golden sunflower shining down on happy multitudes; smiling workers flex huge muscles as they effortlessly construct huge bridges and towers of the future.

Address: Basement, Bldg 4, 868 Huashan Rd

Tel: 6211-1845


Shanghai Science and Technology Museum

You would expect a city like Shanghai to be at the cutting edge of scientific discovery, and this well laid-out museum does its best to make science accessible to people of all ages.

Younger students will definitely enjoy the 3D and 4D cinemas. Put on a pair of oversized specs and watch Lego racing cars zoom out of the screen and right past your head, accompanied by weather effects such as wind and spray from rain on the roads.

For the older ones, a reasonable range of scientific zones includes Wide Spectrum of Life (about the world's biodiversity for budding biologists), Light of Wisdom (for chemists), AV Paradise (physicists will like this one) and Technoland (for anybody interested in becoming an engineer).

Address: 2000 Century Ave

Tel: 6862-2000

Media studies:

Oriental Pearl TV Towerer

Some say it's a blight on the horizon; others say it's a brave piece of unique modern architecture.

Love it or hate it, the three-ball tower has become synonymous with Shanghai's skyline and, through prominent appearances in recent films including "Mission Impossible III" and "Fantastic Four II."

Construction began in 1991 and was completed in 1994 when the antenna began broadcasting television and radio programs.

An educational trip here could be combined with a tour around the Shanghai TV Station on Weihai Road in which you can see the studios and technology used to shoot and edit national news broadcasts, documentaries and other shows.

Address: 1 Century Ave

Tel: 5879-1888


Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center

It is not strictly just for geographers. Those interested in local history will no doubt marvel at the photos of old Shanghai - some are 100 years old and show a skyline barely interrupted except for the odd rooftop and church steeple.

For design and technology majors, the highlight of this lesson will undoubtedly be the scale model of the entire city on the fourth floor.

Try and spot your apartment building from the raised viewing gallery around the outside.

If you hunt long enough, you'll notice the lights in the room dimming to simulate nightfall and the models lighting up from the inside, just like the city itself.

If ICT (Information and Communications Technology) students want to get right into the city, then in the next room is a virtual tour of some of the most modern districts, including Gubei, Lujiazui and the airport.

Plus, the building itself is a great example of modern architecture and looks fabulous when lit up at night.

Address: 100 People's Ave

Tel: 6318-4477


Bio Farm

With the global craze for organic produce sweeping Shanghai, what better way to learn where real food comes from than taking kids on a visit to an organic farm?

In Chuansha, Pudong, learning activities include picking your own fruits and vegetables, learning how to identify a herb from its smell, pruning dead leaves from cabbages and meeting the animals (presumably before they appear on your lunch plate).

All that and a free organic lunch too! I bet your regular teachers don't mix you a salad at break time.

Address: 8019 Chuansha Rd

Tel: 400-620-0789, 6469-1721


JZ Club

"If music be the food of love, play on" is one of Shakespeare's most memorable opening lines ("Twelfth Night"), and this venue can help sate your appetite for learning about music outside the classroom.

At weekends, club regular AJ might be found teaching jazz to children of all ages; but he's more likely to be heard at night when the students are sent home and it's time for their parents to unwind listening to some of the finest sounds the city has to offer.

Address: 46 Fuxing Rd W.

Tel: 6431-0269


Shanghai Drama Arts Centerrama Arts Center

Role play, performance, acting and dance are all very well in the classroom, but drama really comes to life on the big stages around the city, and this is Shanghai's premier performing arts venue.

The repertoire on offer includes international troupes - such as the one that recently staged "Oliver Twist" - and Chinese reinterpretations of Western classics, memorably Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" delivered through the medium of Peking Opera.

Smaller plays allow the actors to explore burning issues such as divorce, AIDS and suicide. Aspiring actors and thespians should take themselves along to the next available show without delay.

Address: 288 Anfu Rd

Tel: 6474-8600

(Douglas Sillett is head of English at the British International School Shanghai.)


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