Chinese tutoring institutions test the waters in Silicon Valley and beyond

By Zhang Dan Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/7 22:23:40

○ More Chinese tutoring schools eye overseas markets to test the water of exporting Chinese education 

○ Teachers and parents in the US are not worried that the China-US relations will influence cultural and educational exchanges

A teacher at Zhuge Academy in Silicon Valley together with another teacher (on the screen) based in China give a class to students in October in Silicon Valley. Photo: Courtesy of Zhuge Academy

It has been two months since Jiang Bo started teaching 20 students abouth Chinese culture and history in Silicon Valley. 

The 23-year-old man teaches at the first US school of Zhuge Academy, a major Chinese education brand. 

This Chinese school, specializing in teaching Chinese culture and history, is conducting a trial run in the tech hub of the US. Despite tense China-US relations, teachers and parents at the school are not worried about educational and cultural exchanges between the two countries. 

"Some Chinese have strong cultural anxiety after they moved abroad. They don't have an environment to learn the Chinese history and culture. Some are afraid that their children will abandon Chinese culture," Shang Mei, head of international business at Zhuge Academy, told the Global Times on Tuesday. There is a demand for the school to enter the US.

It is not the only Chinese schools which are speeding up the expansion in line with the growing demand for Chinese education overseas. Also in September, Chinese extra-curricular tutoring institution Xue'ersi started its school in Silicon Valley, tutoring math to mainly ethnic Chinese students in elementary school. 

These Chinese tutoring institutions that expand their business overseas are exporting and testing the methods which have been widely used in China, and at the same time, learning experience from the US.

Although most students are ethnic Chinese at these two Silicon Valley schools, they both believe a diversity of students will choose their courses due to the increasing demand to learn Chinese language and understand China more. 

Shang told the Global Times that Zhuge Academy is speeding up its work to open schools in Australia, Europe and some Asian countries soon. 

Various needs

Moving to the US in 2008, a Chinese mother who asked to remain anonymous told the Global Times she and her husband pay close attention to the domestic language environment of speaking Chinese. 

"Our family read traditional Chinese literature, Four Books and Five Classics, for my two children when they were 3 or 4 years old. We told them it was the products of Chinese culture in different historic periods… Now they can understand Chinese culture objectively and they love it," she said. 

Having taught English for five years in China, the mother said Zhuge Academy frees her from teaching her children Chinese. 

"The coming of Zhuge Academy solved the urgent need for my family. Otherwise, I have to look for textbooks for my children and tailor the curriculum for them," she noted, adding that "Teaching Chinese in North America is very hard, especially when your students are your children." 

There is a lot of academic pressure in the seemingly relaxing life of North America's study environment, the mother told the Global Times. "There is no maximum academic pressure in Silicon Valley, but bigger." Children need to learn how to deal with their pressure, and parents' position for them will also require an intense competition.

Parents like her are very common in Silicon Valley. According to Shang, many Chinese living there used to be top scorers and graduated from prestigious Chinese universities. This group of people may not allow their children to lose in the US. 

Some Chinese parents wish their children to learn Chinese well in the US, as a heritage language to get bonus point, not because they wish their children to know about Chinese culture and literature," Shang said, acknowledging it may be difficult for them to attract these families who wish to achieve high marks.

Story teller

The students, aged between 6 and 12, are divided into three levels after a placement test. Students at basic level are taught pinyin, some simple Chinese poems and characters; the first level enables them to get a picture of Chinese geography, replacement of the dynasties, traditional Chinese festivals and customs; and the second level will jump to classic historical stories and famous chapters in masterpieces. 

Students and parents said that the curricula of Zhuge Academy attract them. From the historical lessons to biographies, the teachers tell stories to students. 

Many of the tutoring schools run by Chinese companies use storytelling as the main teaching method,  which breaks traditional impression of Chinese teaching method of the spoon-feeding education. Having established profound experience with the attractive storytelling method in China, they are exporting and testing the method in the US.

"Those who tell the stories rule society," said Plato. Jiang also believes no child would resist stories. 

"Just like when they hear the stepmother of Snow White wants to kill her, my students would ask 'why' when they hear Chinese historic and cultural stories. They asked me why Li Bai [famous Chinese poet from the Tang Dynasty (618-907)] could not become an official; why Zhubajie, one of the main characters from the Chinese classic Journey to the West has his name; who is the strongest and wisest man in Romance of the Three Kingdoms," Jiang told the Global Times. 

The school tailored its teaching method particularly for American students in Silicon Valley who have active studying habits and loose classroom discipline. The teachers adopted more interactive teaching than that in Chinese schools. 

However, they also ask students to follow basic classroom discipline, such as not bothering others or running in the classroom. 

Using Chinese social media WeChat to keep in touch with parents, Zhuge Academy asked the students to upload their voice messages of reading poems to "punch the clock" in WeChat group regularly. 

This inventive method of handing in homework is quite common in China now. When seeing other parents uploading their children's reading and having teachers' comments in the group, other parents would be motivated to follow suit. 

"Chinese parents in Silicon Valley like this 'punching the clock' thing. They think it can stimulate their children's enthusiasm to participate," Shang said.


Surpassing politics

Despite the current state of China-US relations, Zhuge Academy and parents in the US are not concerned about cultural and educational exchanges. 

"Cultures do not have borders. The cultural exchanges between China and the US, especially Chinese education exchanges, can become a useful way to motivate Chinese in America to push forward Chinese education," the mother said. 

"The manner of China as a great nation and the freedom in the US make me not worried about the bilateral relations," she said. 

Another teacher at Zhuge Academy called Du Linghong also said she doesn't think the political factors will influence educational exchanges. Chinese culture is extensive and profound with a long and rich foundation, and it is uniquely attractive to people, according to Du. 

"As a participant of teaching Chinese abroad, we not only clear up doubts for students but share a responsibility to deliver Chinese culture to the world."

For students at Xue'ersi, their reason for attending the school seems simpler: to achieve better scores at AMC8 - a 25-question, 40-minute, and multiple choice examination in middle school mathematics designed to develop problem-solving skills. 

The school has hired top graduates from Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, as well as the University of Pennsylvania in the hope it can bring the successful math tutoring experience to the US. 

It has so far opened 676 teaching centers in 56 cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, news portal reported. It said more than 3 million students in China bought its offline and online courses. 

Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow at the Beijing-based National Institute of Education Sciences, told the Global Times some tutoring institutions expanding overseas come from the stricter domestic regulation in China. 

The Ministry of Education held a meeting in October to regulate the extra-curriculum tutoring institutions in order to ease Chinese students' heavy burden. Those helping students raising scores at contests were the targets. 

"The intensive training method fits into the current Chinese evaluation system and is useful for Chinese students to raise scores," Chu noted, "but if those schools want to stand a higher position in the American educational environment, they should follow the mainstream teaching method in the US."


Newspaper headline: Exporting education


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