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August 9, 2011

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Inner Mongolia teachers attend city class

Teachers from remote parts of Inner Mongolia want to upgrade their skills and help their students do better and a two-week trip to Shanghai sheds new light on education in the big sky countryside.

Luo Lan is a dedicated history teacher from a rustic middle school in the grasslands and big sky countryside of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It's beautiful but poor and underdeveloped and she watches sadly as good students transfer out and parents with means send their children elsewhere for better schooling.

Luo, who is 29, worries about the education of the students who are left in her class in Hulunbuir in the northeastern part of the region. Since the school is poor, it cannot offer teaching or resources to compare with those in better-off areas.

In hopes of improving education in her school, she and 100 other primary and middle school teachers from Inner Mongolia recently spent 12 days in Shanghai learning about modern practices that they can apply back home without high-tech equipment. They discussed how to communicate better with students and how to make teaching more interactive and meaningful. They were reminded that teachers don't just stand in front of the class.

"All I want is to learn advanced practices from teachers in Shanghai, expand my own horizons and bring my experience in the big city back to my students and their parents," Luo says. It took her three days to reach the regional capital of Hohhot where she and other teachers took a flight to Shanghai.

The program is the Rural Teacher Flying Campaign, which ends today.

It exposes rural teachers to education, culture and daily life in Shanghai, sending them home with ideas and concepts they can implement in their own classrooms. It is supported by The Shanghai Overseas Chinese Foundation and East China Normal University.

"I once met a rural teacher who was asked by his student where to sit on an airplane and he answered by saying 'the wings,' and at that moment I realized that if a teacher knows little how can they educate students and give them wings to fly," says the program's founder Cui Yongyuan, a famous host from CCTV.

"It's urgent that rural teachers see more and broaden their horizons. They can show photos to their students and discuss their experiences in Shanghai, but that's only a small part of our goal.

"We hope they can take the seeds from Shanghai to their own land and take our love to the students so that they also learn to love."

During the trip, the rural teachers listened to lectures by educators and held discussions with principals and teachers. They visited universities, the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory and went sight seeing.

They especially enjoyed the day they spent at the homes of locals and expats.

English teacher Shi Lei rides his motorcycle 10 kilometers each day to get to his elementary school that has a total enrollment of only 20 students.

He visited the traditional shikumen (stone-gated) house of Shanghai native Xie Zhimiao who had taught in rural Yunnan Province for 12 years.

"I fully understand the hard life of rural teachers," says Xie. "Rural students all count on these teachers."

He sent a telescope as a gift for Shi's students to encourage their interest in astronomy.

At Xie's home, Shi was fascinated by the modern computer, noting that in Inner Mongolia his school used old computers with 386 microprocessors. "I hope one day our students can use the newest computers," he says.

One of Xie's friends, who taught in Yunnan for 33 years, helped prepare an authentic Shanghainese meal for the young teacher.

"I'd like to take all my experience from Shanghai back to my students and colleagues, giving them confidence in rural education and inspiring them with new teaching methods," Shi says. "Showing them the prosperous city of Shanghai will give the students dreams and convictions that they can be part of a better world."


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