School built to inspire pupils is lesson in hope


Students from Lanping county, Yunnan province, in an online class led by a teacher from the Elementary School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing. [Photo by Cheng Yuezhu/China Daily]

Facing the mountains stretching across a river valley, and under a clear azure sky, the New Era Hope School echoes with the singing and laughter of children on a Saturday morning.

The newly-constructed school offers education opportunities to minors in the impoverished Lanping county, Southwest China's Yunnan province, and provides seven extracurricular courses for students with different interests, including singing, dancing and Chinese calligraphy.

Xiong Jiying, 12, from the Pumi ethnic group, is studying in Grade 5.She transferred to the school last year, as her family moved to the county from the remote mountains.

"I like this new school better. We can choose from various courses, but I'm very much interested in drawing, so I chose this one," says Jiying, while proudly revealing her painting of sunflowers, done after just one lesson.

All students at this school are, like her, members of local ethnic groups whose families have moved to the county center under the poverty alleviation relocation policy.

Yang Guangze, principal of the Lanping school, says that these extracurricular courses are free of charge to the students. The courses are designed to combine modern culture with traditional culture. For example, the dancing courses include contemporary and folk dance.

Another extracurricular course under consideration centers on ethnic languages and cultural inheritance, according to Yang, as many students like Jiying have limited knowledge of their ethnic dialect and traditional ways of living.

Yang, a veteran teacher of about 40 years, says that, at his old school, some students used to live 35 kilometers away. Even though the students go home every two weeks, the journey can be arduous.

As Lanping has been pushing forward with its poverty alleviation effort, relocation being one of the primary policies, the county was set to welcome 5,000 primary and junior middle school students. Previous educational resources could not meet the burgeoning demand.

The China Communications Construction Group donated 150 million yuan ($22 million) to build the CCCG Lanping New Era Hope School, with advanced teaching facilities, a 1.4-hectare area for sports and a library with more than 105,000 books.

The school offers education and accommodation to 2,832 students. Some of its student residences are still under construction, but they are due to be completed later this year.

Similar to the New Era Hope School, the Lanping No 3 Comprehensive Primary School was established last year. This offers six-year primary school education to the relocated children. The school has 1,826 students, including 1,626 registered impoverished students. Free board and lodging are offered to those who live more than 1 km away from school.

Earlier this year, the Elementary School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing established a partnership cooperation with the No 3 Comprehensive Primary School to help improve its teaching resources.

The Beijing school provides both online and in-person training to the Lanping teachers, shares their internal resources and provides material support, such as funding and books.

Su Jianjing, who became a teacher seven years ago, began to teach Chinese at the No 3 Comprehensive Primary School last year.

"The teachers from Beijing adopt a highly advanced pedagogy and have been helpful in our work. They are detailed when observing and evaluating our classes and offer us valuable advice," Su says.

On Sept 12, the first sessions of online classes by teachers from Beijing were offered to the students in Lanping to explore a new way of long-distance cooperation.

With the support of technology, the class links the north and south of the country, with the students sitting in a multimedia classroom in the far-flung county while the teacher instructs from the capital.

Fourth grader Feng Yi, 10, among the first to attend the long-distance class, says that she finds the class interesting, as the teacher incorporated singing and games into the teaching process.

Also a beneficiary of the relocation policy, she transferred to the school last year. "At my old school, the desks were shabby and bumpy, but in this one, everything is new," she says. "We can learn a lot of new things and have teachers from Beijing teaching us. Also, I can now walk to school in under 20 minutes."

Zheng Ruifang, principal of the Elementary School Affiliated to RUC, led a group of their teachers from Beijing to Lanping this month, to facilitate direct communication between the teachers from both sides.

"We have been cooperating with each other since May, but due to the pandemic, we could only observe their classes online," Zheng says.

Teachers from Lanping are welcome to come to Beijing to observe and study, she says. "With exchanges, teachers in Beijing can gain experience and progress quickly by learning from their counterparts. Meanwhile, local teachers, by always staying in such a remote area, cannot discuss with, and learn from, great teachers, for example about how to better organize lessons.

"It's not that our levels of teaching differentiate from one another, but that teachers need to broaden their horizons. So, in the future we would also like to provide more opportunities for exchanges."

This cooperative method between schools has yielded favorable results in other areas in Yunnan that are still stricken by poverty. A fine example is set by the Zhenxiong Middle School Affiliated to Yunnan Normal University, which was jointly built by the university and the local county government in 2016.The Party chief of Zhenxiong county, Zhai Yulong, says that when he first came to work at the county and planned to build a high-quality school, many found the idea unrealistic, for the county was even lacking in basic infrastructure.

Since then, Zhenxiong county has invested 5 billion yuan in education and the middle school was successfully built.

In 2019, the first year of students graduated from the school. All graduates were able to continue on to their undergraduate studies, 85.4 percent of whom entered first-tier universities. Among them, for the first time in 19 years, three students were admitted to Tsinghua University and Peking University. Another four students entered the two universities this year, and the school's overall results ranked among the top schools in the province.

Pei Ting, who is in her sophomore year in high school, aims to enroll into the China University of Political Science and Law. "I want to go to a good university and get a stable job after graduation, so that my parents don't have to work so hard," she says. "Life holds infinite possibilities for me. My hard work today will be repaid with a better future."

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