Thank you teacher! − Teaching in Beijing

Lecturers of the PH Zurich taught a school class in China during APAIE conference they attended in March, 2015, Beijing. Below they describe their experiences.

At a conference of the "Asian-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE)" in Beijing in late March we were once more reminded of the importance of student mobility: around half a million Chinese students studied abroad in 2014 – and the number is rising. Together with around 20 other representatives of Swissuniversities, we discussed the current challenges in a workshop organized by swissnex at the conference. swissnex is an organisation supported by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation: its aim is to link Switzerland and the world in the fields of science, education, art and innovation. All the participants agreed that the greatest challenge – besides language skills and the courses offered – remains cross-cultural exchange. We set ourselves our own challenge after the conference: with the support of Monica Bazzigher, lecturer on "Art and Design" at the PH Zurich, we arranged to teach a drawing lesson in a 5th grade class and a training course for teachers on the outskirts of Beijing.

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Perplexity reigns at the end of the lesson

The pupils greeted us with a cheerful "Hello teacher!" after which the headmistress started the first drawing lesson. This was observed by many teachers and guests. The "Swiss lesson" followed. Our greeting in English was a success: "What's your name?" The students stood up and introduced themselves. We were surprised at how eloquently the children talked about spring. Some were hard to stop, now that they were finally able to use their English. They then embarked on a fantasy journey to Switzerland. What do things look like there? The students understood the task, to the teacher's relief, and concentrated with great intensity on drawing with Neocolor pastels. They acknowledged our individual feedback with "Thank you teacher!" Unfortunately there was not enough time for the discussion of Swiss paintings that we had planned. After our thanks to the class – "Well done; good job!" – perplexity reigned. How was the lesson to end? The students were obviously waiting for a transition ritual, but what exactly?

The teachers were unstoppable

After a lavish lunch (we ordered a "light meal") and a trip to a park (we asked for a short tour around the school building instead of an after-lunch nap), the training course began. The 70 Chinese teachers had previously seen our lesson and that of the headmistress on video. To get started, we gave an introduction to the Swiss education system and teacher training at the PH Zurich and then moved on to the central aspects of drawing lessons - imagination and creativity - with a reflection on the common features shared by our and the headmistress's lessons. We were then requested to deal with the topic of assessment, so we asked the teachers to evaluate drawings by Swiss 3rd-graders in groups, using a set of criteria. At first, confusion prevailed, but as soon as the task was clear, the teachers were unstoppable. To everyone's surprise, there was a high degree of correlation in the assessment! The teachers had many questions - but unfortunately there was not enough time for many of them. The Minister of Education thanked us for our work, after which we took the one-hour subway ride to the hotel and, despite being quite exhausted, looked back with pleasure on our successful intercultural adventure.

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