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Education department hosts teachers from China

As part of a program connecting Brown faculty and high school teachers from the Shenzen district in China, 23  teachers from Shenzen visited the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, a public school in Providence, to observe American teaching and classroom organization styles yesterday.

The program, an eight-week training institute for the visiting teachers, was organized by Kenneth Wong, chair of the Education Department. He said he hoped the program "would allow the education department at Brown to have a global impact." Wong called the program, which began at the end of September, "an exciting initiative."

At the start of their visit yesterday, the teachers were welcomed by Dennis Littky, a co-founder of the MET schools, and then split into groups — each with its own student guide — to visit different buildings.

One group was taken to the Equality building, where Steven Bartholomew, MET Equality School administrator, gave teachers a tour and explained the building's layout. The group was then split up and sent to two different advisories, where they were able to observe classes.

Denise Ramos, a teacher at the school, said she believes the most valuable lesson the visiting teachers could learn from the MET was its focus on teacher-student relationships. "I'm with the same group for all four years," Ramos said. "The ability to build a relationship with them is the secret."

The visit was one in a series of seven to a variety of schools, including charter schools, independent schools and public schools.

"They are coming from a system where there is strong standardization," Wong said of the visiting professors. He cited the higher teacher-student ratio in Shenzen — about 50 students to one teacher — as another major difference between the schools in China and those in the United States.

Cai Mao Zhou, a professor of Chinese in Shenzen, believes the American and Chinese school systems will "meet in the middle," he said through an interpreter.

"Chinese schools are looking at American models, and American schools are looking at Chinese models," he said. "American education encourages the students' individuality, capability and creativity," he added.

The program includes two other components. At the beginning of the program, teachers attended a series of 12 lectures by Brown faculty that focused on topics such as using new technology, the history of American education and organizational methods for classrooms and school governments.

"The university professors gave very high-quality lectures," Zhou said. "They brought theory and practice together to show us the system of education here."

The other portion of the program focuses on exposing teachers to American culture. The Chinese teachers have visited museums and other universities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Teachers also receive English lessons twice a week.

"The cultural activities help us understand U.S. society from a different angle," Zhou said. "They show on a deeper level how the education system was formed."

The 23 teachers in the program were chosen from a pool of 4,000 applicants. Those selected were picked based on several factors, such as their communication skills, professional credentials and recommendations from supervisors.

The University also hosted a summer institute for 24 school heads from the Shenzen district in June and July.

Approximately half the visiting teachers are fluent in English, and the rest have varying levels of proficiency. "The teachers organized themselves so people fluent in English are paired with those who are not so they can support one another," Wong said. An interpreter also accompanied the teachers.

Program administrators chose the Shenzen district for several reasons.

"It's a district that is very progressive and open to new ideas in terms of improving teaching, documenting and tracking student learning and using technology," Wong explained. "This is a good match for us — we are also very innovative."

Wong said he hopes the program is the beginning of a strong relationship between Brown and the Shenzen district. "We hope it will go on for a few years," he said. "There is strong interest from the urban school district to send teachers to get some of the best and most innovative ideas."


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