Feature: Modern English class inspires rural pupils


LAIYUAN, Hebei, Sept. 18 — Zhao Minghui, 11, is picking up English words through making faces. As a fourth grader of a rural primary school in Laiyuan County, north China’s Hebei Province, Zhao, together with her classmates, is having a unique English class.
This was the scene on Monday, when a special language-learning program saw visiting volunteer teacher Liu Wei, a former member of a national English research group, use an avant-garde story-based approach to attract kids from Dongtuanbu Central Primary School (DCPS) to actively participate in the class.
Some 160 kilometers from Beijing, Laiyuan is officially classed as one of China’s most poverty-stricken counties. With many people struggling for daily necessities, education in such rural areas is far less developed than in cities.
That is why the Hope Project continues to work to improve the situation. Initiated in 1989 by the China Youth Development Foundation and the Communist Youth League Central Committee, it aims to bring schools to poverty-stricken rural areas of China, to help children of poor families complete elementary school education. DCPS is covered in the project.
Though the teaching facilities in DCPS can hardly meet the standard of urban schools, English classes are compulsory for pupils from the third grade to sixth grade.
As a volunteer teacher, Liu Wei uses word cards and slides to tell a story of making faces and involve children with interactive games, throwing away dry grammar and drill practices .
In class, pupils raise their hands high in the air and giggle with beaming eyes. Some race to the platform to pose in different expressions of “fierce,” “frightened,” “sad,” “hungry” and “good,” while others make guesses and shout the right words loud and clear.
A 40-minute class is filled with laughter. Afterwards, pupils completely surround Liu and pepper him with questions.
“The game of making faces is so much fun,” said Zhao Minghui, her cheeks as red as cherries. English class is Zhao’s favorite and she often scores high in English exams.
The textbook used in the class is “Good English,” a reprinted series of stories from the “Oxford Reading Tree” — the most popular reading scheme in the UK, and used as an English textbook in 130 countries.
“I was concerned about the difficulty of the textbook and worried the kids wouldn’t be able to follow me. I even planned to change my teaching schedule before I started. But their performance in class is fantastic, way above my expectation,” said Liu.
According to the teacher, the rural kids are as smart, open-minded and enthusiastic as their peers in urban areas. It took them just 40 minutes to pick up long and hard-to-pronounce words like “frightened,” which is “very astonishing.”
When asked for the uses of learning English, one child named Qi Xi was bewildered as she left the classroom. When Qi was told that acquiring English can help communicate with foreigners, she said she wants to introduce her hometown to foreign friends and invite them to visit Laiyuan.
“I’m going to be an English teacher in my hometown in the future. I’ll guide my students to love English,” she said.
DCPS has 427 pupils and 36 teachers. Many children are sponsored by public funding like the state-initiated Hope Project.
“They are thoughtful, frank and thrifty,” said Zhang Weimin, a young female teacher who came to teach English in DCPS after graduation from a teacher-training college. At present, the school has only three English teachers for eight classes of different grades.
Among 36 pupils in Zhang’s class, seven are from families who still live on less than one dollar per person a day. They save every bottle of mineral water handed out by the school. But they all pitched in to buy a cake to thank their teacher upon Teachers’ Day, Sept. 10, moving Zhang to tears.
“I have never thought about changing jobs. For these children, everything I paid is worth it,” Zhang said.
Zhang’s wish is that a foreigner may come to the school and communicate with the children in English someday. “They have never met someone from another country,” she noted.[db:内容2]