In November 2010, Mme Li Xaolin, the Chairperson of Youxie (Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries), suggested that volunteer teachers would be most welcome in her father’s village.
This was because the Chinese Government no longer grant a work permit to foreign teachers over the age of 60 [Editor's note: Indeed, no teacher whether Chinese or foreign strictly can work as a teacher in China...]. This seems a pity as there are a number of teachers over the age of 60 who would be ideal for the job and who have the free time to spend teaching in China. This resulted in a new project for the Society called VICTour.
A sub-committee was set-up to investigate the possibilities of this project. Chairperson was myself, Jenevere Foreman, and committee members were George Andrews, Judy Livingstone, and Maurice Alley.
Thus the VICTour idea was circulated to all branches.
Emails were sent to Mr Qing Boming (Director of Oceania Division in Youxie), who, in turn, was the go-between between us and Mme Li Xaolin. He replied that three teachers would be welcome for the first year and the teaching would be for 2 weeks, but weekends would be free. The 3rd week would be our ‘payment’ – a tour of the local area in China. Of course, bed, board and travel within China would be provided. As usual with trips organised by Youxie, we were to pay for our airfares to China.
National holidays are unsuitable and there are sufficient of these in China to make it difficult to find a ‘slot’. However, a clear 3 weeks between holidays was found in October after National Day.
The three teachers chosen for the pilot tour were Murray Hoare, secretary of Auckland Branch, John Meyer, member of the Auckland Branch, and myself, President of the Hamilton Branch and Member of the National Executive.
We were met in Wuhan by Elvis Hu from the Foreign Affairs Office of Hubei Provincial People’s Government and driven North to Changfeng village, Hong An County, and the Li Xiannian Memorial House, which would be our accommodation for the next week. Fang Siquan, the director, said the house was Li Xiannian’s, Li Xiaolin’s father, who was a famous general during the revolution, a Minister of Finance in the PRC Government and subsequently he was President of the PRC. So we felt indeed privileged to be guests there.
The director of the House, Fang Siquan’s daughter, Fang Xi, was our interpreter who proved to be wonderful company and now a true friend. Fang Xi or her preferred name, Sunny, was in her last year as an English major at Wuhan University. She did not have to attend university till December so was able to use her interpreting skills and improve her English with us.
Each day we were driven to Gaoqiao Town. On the first day, we all arrived at the Middle School to a warm welcome and one of the teachers was assigned to us as our liaison person. For the first two days, John attended the Primary School while Murray and I attended the Middle School.
The normal school day for us was 2 classes in the morning and 1 class in the afternoon, with class sizes being 40 + and ages ranging from 13-17 in grades 7-9. The school year started on September 1st so the Grade 7 students had had only 6 weeks of English lessons before we arrived. We had to speak slowly and use the blackboard to emphasize pronunciation. Correct pronunciation was insisted upon and we gave the students a lesson about New Zealand having taken with us material relating to NZ.
The teachers in general asked if we could emphasize how important English is for the students’ future. Being in the rural area, some students couldn’t see the importance of English, as their future was in farming.
Each of us had our own way of approaching the classes so there was no formal lesson plan. We found the students attentive and well-behaved and we were overwhelmed by their keenness to talk to us and have their photographs taken and we signed our names hundreds of times in text books or on pieces of paper.
The school had student and teacher boarders, who all went to their rural homes in the weekends.
The first Saturday we spent with Fang Siquan’s wife and daughter, Sunny. We spent most of the day in a mountain area and attended a service at a Buddhist temple.
On Sunday we were taken to the 140,000 Martyrs Park and the museum dedicated to Li Xiannian.
Hong An County city – the 2nd week.
On Monday morning we were driven to a hotel in Hong An County city – our rooms for the next week. We were then taken to No. 3 Middle School and after lunch we persuaded Mr. Liu, teacher in charge of the English Department, that we would like to teach a couple of classes… This school had a roll of 3000 students and 300-plus teachers, 100 of which took the English classes! The school was rather lopsided in the gender roll with 2000 boys and 1000 girls. The grounds were well kept with a running track between the classroom and the administrator’s block. Teaching blocks were up to 5 storeys high with no lifts! Quite an effort was required on our part!
No 2 Middle School is considered the best in Hong An County with over 6000 students and 400 staff.
We had 2 classes in the mornings and 1, or sometimes 2, in the afternoon. However, the class sizes were large with over 100 students! So, you can imagine how cramped we were…! The teachers were keen to have us in their classes and sat at the back with other teachers or in the aisles, translating to the class when necessary.
We had an entertaining last dinner on Friday night with the Director of the Education Department, his daughter and some of the teachers from No 5 Middle School.
Because the school system is geared to pass exams, the curriculum is well in place and strictly adhered to. After a couple of days we realised that we were taking up special teaching time and appreciated being able to contribute to the students’ needs.
Being a rural area, the schools have teaching staff and student boarders. At No. 5 Middle school and probably the others, boarders are up at 5.30 am. School starts at 7.30 and finishes at 9 pm. Homework is done after that, so the days are long for all! Friday is a half day as the students and teachers go home for the weekend – though the students still have homework to do! Those teachers who live in the city either ride a motorbike or bicycle to school, as very few have cars.
No. 2 Middle School has employed foreign teachers in previous years, but we were advised there were no funds to employ teachers this 2011/2012 school year. The school libraries were for reference reading only.
Before leaving Wuhan on the 24th October, we were entertained by the Hubei Provincial People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. Mr Gao Zuoyin, Vice-Secretary-General, was our host at a banquet dinner.
From Saturday 22nd to 29th October, we taken on a tour of many wonderful places in Wuhan and North East of Wuhan.
- Memorial to the Wuchang Uprising of the 1911 Revolution
- Yellow Crane Tower
- Wuhan Botanical Garden
- Hubei Provincial Museum
- East Lake
- Chu Han Street commercial centre
- Hankou District - Jianghan Road ‘walking’ street
From Yichang, by boat:
- Gezhou Dam
- Three Gorges Dam and Project
- Jingzhou Museum
- View the city wall
- Wudang Mountain Scenic Zone
- Golden Top Taoist Temple
- Purple Heaven Palace
- South Hill
- Suizhou Hot Springs
As you can probably imagine, we enjoyed ourselves tremendously. What a stunning reward we were treated to!
For us, the experience of being with young enthusiastic young people was heartwarming. We were warmly welcomed everywhere by students and teachers alike and we felt they appreciated the opportunity to talk to native English speakers. If we have helped in any way to encourage the students to study hard to learn English, then our visit was worthwhile. We would, however, appreciate feed back from the schools and Hong An County Board of Education Board as to whether we made a difference to their school and if they would request another tour.
We would readily encourage another group to teach in rural areas as an ongoing society project.