“Shenzhen is 13 times the size of Birmingham,” recounted one bright pupil at the end of Day Two of our China Challenge Days delivered into Walkwood Church of England Middle School this week. This is perfectly true – but many people probably haven’t even heard of Shenzhen. In the space of 40 years, Shenzhen, a previously sleepy, undeveloped coastal area in southern China with a population the equivalent of Redditch in Worcestershire, has fast become a burgeoning metropolis boasting the accolade of being China’s Silicon Valley and one of the busiest container ports in the world. It is just one of the many examples of China’s development unprecedented in history that is manifest in 100s of new cities across China that have taken shape as part of China’s economic development over the last few decades. Alongside this economic growth, fuelled by western consumption and the desire for cheap goods made in China, the ‘Middle Kingdom – the translation from the Chinese name for itself – is a renewed national self-confidence that harks as far back as the ancient Silk Roads when China was very much a superpower and other nations desired its silk, porcelain and tea.
Some 2.5 years ago a conversation with Principal, Reverend Clive Leach, and H-J Colston-Inge, Director of Engage with China, an educational charity that builds China literacy in schools, culminated in an agreement about the importance of building global awareness in school through the lens of China. An invitation to deliver a Challenge Day to Y8 ensued but unfortunately the pandemic delayed the visit until Monday this week.
“There’s a real buzz in school today,” said Dani Timmins, Assistant Principal. “…It is three years since we have been able to invite in any outside speakers into school and we are really excited to engage our pupils with our new curriculum which will look at China.” For H-J and her colleague, Theresa Booth, at Engage with China, it was an equal delight to be able to bring China alive in the classroom and it was music to our ears to hear Ms Timmins agree with us that, “China is a global force and it is really important that children recognise this… if we can inspire their curiosity, then they will learn more as well.”
Two half day sessions were delivered to 170 pupils. Activities and content were wide-ranging and included mandarin language, role play about the environment in China and its commitment to renewables, the rise and fall and rise of China as a superpower and population size through an activity involving 60kgs of rice! “To be able to do an activity like this which the school could not resource, was fantastic!” said Mrs Timmins.
H-J Colston-Inge said, “since we went to China in the 1980s, my colleague Theresa and I, have spent a lifetime building China literacy and opportunity between China and the UK from the boardroom to the classroom. As China continues to develop, its impact and influence on the world only continues to grow. It seems to us that we do young people a dis-service if we do not build competitive edge by opening eyes to the second largest economy in the world and it is always a delight when pupils say they want to go to China – as one did today – having been involved in one of our China Days.”
On summarising the learnings, one pupil, Lucas, highlighted that “190 languages are spoken in China” and another correctly noted that one in four people is Chinese. H-J continued that, “it is so encouraging to hear pupil recall about the learnings and to know that they have been engaged. Working with a big group can be tricky but the pupils were a delight and a credit to the school. The warm welcome, which began on arrival at the school gates from the Head himself, coupled with the positive atmosphere which permeated the whole school, were testament to the fruits of faith ethos there and it was a privilege to work with these pupils.” Feedback from pupils and staff has been positive. One teacher, who helped to facilitate remarked on the “great resources and very knowledgeable tutors who were excellent in engaging pupils.” The best news came at the end of Day Two when Mrs Timmins said,
I want to invite Engage with China back in next year to teach our Year 7s and make this a regular feature of our school curriculum!
加油 as they say in China! Bring it on!