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Published: Tuesday, 5/4/2010

2 local school officials find reforms in China's system

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Memorizing fundamentals and passing tests are cornerstones of Chinese education.

But two local superintendents, Mike Zalar of Oregon City Schools and Susan Lang of Rossford Exempted Village Schools, said art, music, dance, and other cultural activities appear to be becoming more common as China reforms its education system.

They returned last week from a nearly three-week visit to China as part of a team of administrators chosen by the Ohio Department of Education for an exchange program. Mr. Zalar and Ms. Lang visited schools in rural areas, villages, and cities, and each spent a week at different host schools in Wuhan.

"I was very impressed with some of the reforms they're trying to make in the education system," Mr. Zalar said.

Last fall, Fang Qi, general manager of a Wuhan elementary school, visited Rossford schools as part of the exchange program. Ms. Lang spent part of her trip at Mrs. Fang's school, and one aspect she was impressed with was how students exercised for 10 minutes as part of their daily morning routine and have structured recess, she said.

The sheer size of China's population is phenomenal, and U.S. businesses have opportunities to capitalize on that in the global economy, Ms. Lang said. Yet even though Chinese students must pass tests to pursue the next level of education, including high school, the number in college in China exceeds the total of all students in the United States.

"Their students are competing with our students," Ms. Lang said. "They're the upper-crust kids."

One reform China has not yet achieved, however, is to include special education in its schools, Ms. Lang said. But Chinese educators are visiting the United States and other nations to study their educational systems, she said.

"Their expectations for quality education are high, for those that get it," Ms. Lang said.

Mr. Zalar, who spent a week with a Wuhan school principal who will visit Oregon City Schools this fall, said some schools had large teaching staffs. Instead of teaching all day and every day, teachers instruct for perhaps two periods daily and spend the rest of the day planning, he said.

Chinese students also start learning English in elementary school and are fluent by high school, Mr. Zalar said.

During visits to Xian, Beijing, Wuhan, Shanghai, and Ohio's sister state of Hubei province, the local administrators visited sites including the Terra Cotta Warriors, Great Wall of China, and Tiananmen Square. The Chinese administrators who came to the United States last fall also visited tourist sites.

"It was a trip of a lifetime," Mr. Zalar said. "I had just a wonderful time. China was so hospitable, they just rolled the red carpet out for us."



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