Award-winning teacher showcases Chinese educational innovation

Displayed with permission from China Daily

After being named one of the top 10 best teachers in the world by the Global Teacher Prize, Yang Boya, a mental health educator from Yunnan province, has successfully attracted global attention to China’s education innovation. Yang is using her platform to showcase the country’s rising influence on international education trends.

Yang has set up a centre where students – especially left-behind children – can seek professional guidance from psychologists. She is also the first Chinese teacher to earn a spot on the top 10 list of candidates for the Global Teacher Prize. Coordinated by UK-based non-profit Varkey Foundation, the award aims to recognise the most qualified educators in the world. It received 20,000 applications from 179 countries in 2017.

“Being nominated as a top candidate for the prize, I have earned a chance to communicate with my international counterparts, as well as advocate for my Chinese colleagues. I think the international education arena needs more voices from China,” Yang told the People’s Daily Online during an interview.

Innovation to change the conventional education landscape

As China traditionally prioritises knowledge and learning, Chinese families invest a lot in their children’s education. According to BBC statistics, per capita annual disposable income in China rose by 63.3 percent in the five years prior to 2012, yet consumer expenditure on education rose by almost 94 percent in that same period.

“In China, we have an old saying: The study of books outpaces all other pursuits. My parents have spent a lot on my education, hiring tutors and sending me to study groups. Sometimes I feel like I am going to be suffocated by the pressure, but I cannot tell them how I feel as it may disappoint them,” said Chen Lin, a Beijing-based high school student.

“Chinese parents usually have high expectations for their children’s academic performance, while the kids’ psychological health is frequently neglected. Many Chinese teenagers suffer from pressure and confusion, especially left-behind children,” said Yang.

According to a report released in 2015 by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, over 21 percent of Chinese children aged 10 to 15 feel depressed more than twice a week, while 20 percent have expressed discontent with their lives and 22 percent have expressed a lack of confidence in their futures. Children living in rural areas are plagued by even more mental problems than their peers living in cities.

A paucity of professional help and mental healthcare has led to severe social issues, including suicide and school violence among teenagers. In 2015, four left-behind children in Bijie, Guizhou province committed suicide partly due to the absence of their parents.

The oldest was 13, while the youngest was just 5. What’s more, according to a 2015 Xinhua survey, over 70 percent of respondents said they had witnessed incidents of school violence. In order to tackle these problems, Yang has been conducting research on children’s mental health education, especially the emotional deprivation suffered by left-behind children in rural areas.

“I have made several breakthroughs in promoting mental health education. For instance, I introduced drama, theater and music into my teaching methods, which has helped children to improve their mental health and confidence,” said Yang. Notably, Yang also includes parents in her education philosophy, stressing that parental figures are crucial to improving children’s mental health.

“Chinese parents are willing to put great effort into improving their children’s grades, but many hardly spend any time with their kids. Even if they wanted to communicate with teenagers, their lack of professional knowledge and communication skills makes it hard to construct a successful conversation,” Yang explained.

Thanks to Yang’s innovation, more and more educators and parents in China have realized the importance of children’s inner worlds. Meanwhile, society has begun attaching more importance to teenagers’ mental health and mental health education.

“Recognising that a well-rounded education includes psychological support, Yang has demonstrated through her family counseling project that she thinks beyond the walls of the traditional classroom,” said Keren Wong, co-founder of Bridging Education and Mobility, a Beijing-based educational organization. Wong added that Yang’s achievements have shown the world that China is innovative when it comes to education.

“China’s voice”

“Being a candidate for the award has allowed me to communicate with educators from all over the world, but I still feel pity, as I see hardly any Chinese teachers joining this international event,” said Yang.

According to Yang, the world has shown great interest in China’s education landscape. Chinese students’ excellent academic performance and the respect teachers are shown in Chinese society have intrigued educators around the world. Nevertheless, there has been minimal communication between these educators and their Chinese counterparts.

“Though equipped with rich knowledge and teaching skills, Chinese teachers are not as confident as their foreign counterparts, and are not good at self-promotion,” Yang opined.

Echoing Yang, Wong suggested that more Chinese voices should be heard in the arena of international education.

“By joining more international events like the Global Teacher Prize, [Chinese educators] can demonstrate how the Chinese education system overcomes unique challenges through innovation – for instance, expanding quality education for the country’s very large rural population, as well as gaining a better understanding of how to prepare students to face the world,” said Wong.


Xi: Innovation is ‘common focus’

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President Xi Jinping meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Beijing on Tuesday. Feng Yongbin / China Daily

China and Israel will both benefit from cooperation, he tells Netanyahu

The establishment of a China-Israel comprehensive innovation partnership will bring more real benefits to the people of both countries, President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday while calling for enhanced cooperation in scientific innovation.

“Israel is a world-renowned innovative country, and at the same time, China is also pushing forward innovation-driven development, so innovation has become the common focus of our two countries. It is also the priority for our cooperation,” Xi said while meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. Netanyahu is making an official visit to China from Sunday to Wednesday.

Noting that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of China-Israel diplomatic relations, Xi said a comprehensive innovation partnership between the two countries will push forward such cooperation and make use of the two countries’ complementary advantages.

The president called for enhancing political communication, strengthening cooperation at all levels and boosting mutual understanding and trust.

The two countries should connect their development strategies, steadily push forward cooperation on major projects under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, and focus on cooperation in such areas as scientific innovation, agriculture, medicine and clean energy, he said.

Netanyahu told Xi, “Your decision to announce a comprehensive innovation partnership between China and Israel is a tremendously important decision, certainly for Israel and, I believe through our cooperation, for China as well.”

The Israeli prime minister said his country could be “a perfect partner for China in the development of a variety of technologies to change the way we live, how long we live, how healthy we live, the water we drink, the food, the milk we drink and every area”.

Xi, noting that China has close links with the Middle East, said peace and stability in the region are in line with the common interests of all parties, including China and Israel.

The peaceful co-existence of Israel and Palestine can not only benefit the two parties as well as the whole region of Middle East, but also meet the expectations of the international community, Xi said.

Netanyahu said Israel will continue to support the one-China policy.

He also said Israel is willing to play a role in cooperation with China on infrastructure under the Belt and Road Initiative, which Xi proposed in 2013.

Israel would like China to play a bigger role in Middle East affairs, he added.

“We know that you have great scientists, great industries and great capabilities, and we think that by working together, we can make the future better, for both our peoples, but I also think for all of humanity,” he added.

“We admire China’s capabilities, its position on the world stage and its history,” Netanyahu said.

China is Israel’s largest trade partner in Asia and its third-largest overall.

The two countries embarked on their first round of negotiations on a trade pact in September.

More than 100 technology executives have joined Netanyahu on the visit, with meetings planned with Chinese business leaders, according to Reuters.

On Monday, China and Israel also signed a number of agreements for cooperation in the areas of economy, science and technology, commerce and civil aviation.