What Is the Heart of Education?
Christopher Munn, the Western Co-Principal of Yew Wah International School of Shanghai Lingang recently delivered a speech entitled "What Is the Heart of Education?" at the Yuanbo International Exhibition. The two stories he shared that day touched many parents, and also helped us better understand that though the cultivation of children's character is difficult to measure, over time we can also discover the growth of the children.
The following is the script from Mr Munn’s speech.
Good morning everyone. I’d like to speak in Chinese today. Our school (Yew Wah International Education School of Shanghai Lingang) promotes bilingual education in primary and secondary schools, so I want to set an example and try to speak in Chinese today.
My name is Christopher Munn. I came from the United States and I have been in Shanghai for 11 years. I have been working in the field of education for more than 15years. Eight years ago, I joined Yew Wah International Education School. In 2015, we opened a new campus in Lingang, Shanghai. I was honoured to be appointed as the founding Western Co-Principal.
The topic I would like to discuss today is "What Is the Heart of Education?". I think it's a good question for us to consider.
I have five children myself, so I'm constantly thinking about this as I raise my children. What kind of a person do I want my child to be in the future? What university will they go to? What kind of job will they find? What kind of character will they have? As parents, we will consider all these questions.
Nowadays, many parents in China are only concerned about their child's academic achievements and what university they will go to in the future. In fact, I would like to say that these questions are not the most important. Think about it… 20 years from now, 30 years from now, will you care about their academic achievements? Will you be concerned with what university they went to? You won’t, am I right?
I submit that you will care most about what kind of character they exhibit in life.
Consider a person that gets good grades, goes to Harvard University or Oxford University and finds a good job after graduation. But this person has no friends and no family of his own. He might have a lot of money, but he only uses the money for the comfort of himself, not to help others. In fact, he may use his money and position to even hurt others. If you were the parent of that person, what would you feel? Proud? I don’t think so.
But if your child grows up and finds a job they love that involves meaningful work, and they make enough money to support their family, help many people, and seek to make a difference in the world, would you be satisfied and proud? I think every parent would be proud of that kind of person.
At Yew Wah, we believe that the heart of education is character formation. No matter whether they achieve the top grades or go to the best university, as long as they exhibit excellent moral character they will be successful.
Today I will share two stories about how we cultivate our students’ character.
Many schools in China advocate "holistic education" nowadays, but I believe our organisation was one of the earliest advocates of this philosophy in China more than 80 years ago. Holistic education surely covers a wide range of topics. We have a broad curriculum and more than 200 after-school activities. But what's more important is to use our learning activities to cultivate children's character and values. In today's job market, employers do not care that much about the university employees graduated from and their achievements in school, but pay more attention to their interpersonal skills and character, such as communication skills, co-operation with others, empathy, and so on.
So at Yew Wah, we focus more on the cultivation of these qualities in the curriculum.
The first example is that we get students involved with various projects in our school from primary school through high school, so as to cultivate their spirit of co-operation. We have a big brother and big sister programme in which older students read English books to the younger students, and then eventually the younger students will grow up to follow this example. We have created many opportunities for students to study outside the walls of the classroom. For example, primary schools have a China Classroom programme and they will go to different regions of China to study for a week. Secondary students have the World Classroom programme and Somerset Yew Wah Classroom programme in the UK. These allow children to study in the UK, Australia, Czech Republic, Japan and other countries to develop their character and abilities.
We have had primary school students go to Huangshan to participate in the China Classroom programme. We don't go to Huangshan just for fun. We go to Huangshan to study. It's a good opportunity for children to reflect on their country’s past history, and consider what we can learn for the future. Here's a video of an interview about the China Classroom, from which you can learn about our educational purposes.
A Glimpse of the China Classroom in Yew Wah International Education School
As you can see, whether we are inside or outside the classroom, our curriculum is designed to develop children's character and their value system. We believe that character formation is the foundation of education. We have a lesson on character education every Monday. All the core teachers will spend time with their students every morning to cultivate relationships and to develop the children's moral character.
Here’s another short story that has touched me recently.
Last year, our Eighth Grade students had a project in Maths class to start a small business and then analyse the profits or loss. They sold some milkshakes to their classmates after lunch and earned a few thousand yuan. You might think that these students would want to buy some pizza and have a party for themselves, or perhaps buy books for our school library with the money. But a student’s mother knew about an orphanage near our school, so this student told their classmates about the orphanage, and they all agreed to give the money to them. Our students were very happy to use the money to buy food and go to the orphanage to give it to those children there. Later we visited several more times to play with and read to the orphans.
As a principal, I am really touched. I always emphasise the importance of character development to our staff and students, but sometimes I’m not sure how much of a difference we are making. I was moved to see that our students made such a decision at that time, and I think it’s very telling of the moral quality of our students. When they grow up, they will surely pursue a better world, a better future, and bring hope to the world.
We don’t just want to raise up smart children, but rather raise up good children who will make the world a better place.