BACKGROUND & MISSION
Education reform is arguably the most pressing social problem facing China today. The Chinese Ministry of Education has promulgated national education reform policies, but all of these—new curricula, technologies, and concepts such as student-centered, integrated learning—rely on teachers’ implementation for quality and sustainability. Thus, it is essential to help teachers to clarify and develop their own educational values, and the personal attitudes and skills needed to put their values into practice. Most current forms of teacher training in China do not effectively address this step, focusing on promoting new educational techniques (the “what”) but overlooking the need for teachers to genuinely understand the “why” behind the techniques, and “how” to implement them effectively in their own classrooms. An integrated approach to teacher training and development is needed that combines both personal and professional growth so that the reform goals of the national Ministry of Education can be implemented with high quality for rural children. For 11 years, RCEF has worked on the frontlines of this exciting field and will continue to deepen its expertise with our Rural Education Innovators Program.
RCEF's mission is to promote education for people in rural China that prepares them to improve their own lives and communities.
Underlying this mission is a commitment to affect the essence of education for rural students - the curriculum and teaching methods. We believe that it is not enough just to increase the number of years students spend in school or to improve the equipment and hardware available to them. Instead, we support teachers in rural areas to provide a different education to rural students, not just more of the same. We believe education should be practical, inclusive, and socially responsible.
Practical: RCEF believes that test scores can be useful indicators of student learning but that they are a means, not an end, to a larger purpose for education: students' ability to apply the knowledge, skills, and values learned through their education to make practical improvements in their own lives and surrounding environment.
Inclusive: The Chinese government and many NGOs has made great strides in providing financial aid and better equipment to rural students. However, in content and teaching methods, most rural schools focus exclusively on exam preparation which means that the life needs of most students are overlooked. RCEF promotes education that serves the needs of all students, regardless of their academic performance, and prepares them not just for exams but for real life.
Socially Responsible: RCEF encourages students to learn about their surrounding environment. We promote opportunities for them to engage in investigating and impacting problems in their surroundings so that they develop a sense of social responsibility and confidence about their ability to make a positive difference.
China’s current education system is built around one goal and one standard for success – college entrance. The few rural students who are successful leave their villages, find a good job in the city, and are not actively encouraged to use their newly found resources to contribute to the development of their hometowns or society at large. Those who are left behind – the vast majority – have only been educated for the purpose of preparing for exams. If they are unable to enter university, much of what they learned will be of little practical use to them. Their schooling has not fostered the knowledge and skills they need to solve real world problems. RCEF questions the assumption that strengthening this type of education prepares students to improve their own lives and communities. At best, it may help a small group of rural students rise to the top, while their peers and future generations of rural children are left behind. We believe that different education is needed, rather than more resources for the same education.
To help us envision the kind of education that aligns with our mission, we thought of rural Chinese who have made significant contributions to their communities, identified common characteristics that were instrumental to their effectiveness, and adopted these as our main goals. Those goals are: developing an understanding of community issues, developing a sense of appreciation and empathy for their communities, building confidence, building communication and collaboration skills, and building critical thinking skills. Here, “communities” refer to different groups that students belong to: their classes, schools, villages, and the larger society.
In addition to supporting students to make a difference in their communities, we believe that these learning goals will inherently benefit students’ individual development and wellbeing. These goals reflect cognitive, social and emotional development as well as skills acquisition to support well-rounded growth. They are important characteristics that support us in building healthy and supportive relationships with others, solving everyday problems, and working effectively in a range of professions.
The educational goals above are aligned with the New Curriculum Reform of China’s Ministry of Education and there are many different ways that these knowledge, skills and values can be fostered. In our own teaching activities, RCEF has chosen in recent years to focus on using a methodology called Service Learning, an educational approach which “integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities”. In a typical service-learning project, students identify problems that they are concerned about in the community, research the problems and potential solutions, create and implement a plan for addressing the problem, and reflect on their learning and action throughout the process.
However, in addition, RCEF is open to, and indeed has already supported, Fellows and other organizations which use other methodologies and curriculum framework, as long as they help students pursue one or more of the RCEF learning goal. For example, we have supported Fellows who develop and teach Reading and English language in various student-centered ways.
For concrete teaching examples of RCEF’s philosophy in action, please see the article “Reimagining Education in Rural China”, Solutions Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, September 2011. Executive Director, Diane Geng, gives a personal introduction to RCEF in her presentation at MaD Asia.
General information and
Rural China Education
P.O. Box 224
New York, NY 10276