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Zigen’s Rural Eco Schools Embark on the International Stage

In October 2016, Zigen co-sponsored and participated in the “Sustainable Education for Sustainable Development in the World Education: The 7th Beijing Education Forum for Sustainable Development” organized by the UNESCO China National Working Committee. At the forum, we recommended for reward five rural eco schools: Chemin Primary School of Guizhou Province, Rongjiang Number Two Middle School, of Guizhou Province, Ma Village Primary School of Shanxi Province, Gehetou Primary School and Qitaohe Primary School of Hebei Province. They all got named “China Education for Sustainable Development Experimental School.” This is the first time that schools in poor rural areas have the opportunity to participate in an international conference on Education for Sustainable Development and to win prizes.

In January 2016, Zigen supported a total of more than 40 teachers from Rongjiang, Yulong, Qinglong, Fengning and other counties to Beijing to participate in the Zigen and Beijing Normal University jointly organized “Sustainable Development Rural China – Teachers’ Training” program, and in each county the development of five schools to become pilot eco-schools. Chemin Primary School in Rongjiang County, Guizhou Province is one of the earliest starters.

In Rongjiang County in Southeast Guizhou Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, lives the Dong people. Dong songs spread from generation to generation; everyone can sing the Dong songs, which express their history, livelihood, life, love, hope and faith. But in the past 30 years, they are disappearing at a fast pace. School education lacks local cultural content, and the younger generation did not have any opportunities to learn. However, in the Zigen-supported rural eco-schools, we see the local culture and nationality traditions being handed down and revitalized.

The Chemin Primary School, rich in Dong culture, of Guzhou Township, Rongjiang County was built in 1912. Before 1949, it was a national normal pilot village primary school, with more than 100 years of history so far. It is now the largest village school in Rongjiang County, with more than a thousand students. The school’s environment is also very unique. Upon entering the campus, we saw four ancient banyan trees, covering half of the campus. Under the banyan trees, in an ancient pavilion, a group of students were sitting, holding pipas, playing while singing a Dong song. A boy saw us coming in, and followed us, with a pipa in his hand, still playing and singing with great passion. The young principal Yang told us: “After participation in the teachers training in Beijing, the teachers have more confidence in turning the school into one with environmental awareness and Dong cultural characteristics, or an eco-school. All students are children of farmers of farmers; they grew up in the field doing labor; We respect nature, value hardworking and frugality, respect the old and take care of the young, and all these values are passed down through songs. Some old people can sing hundreds of songs, and I am worried that one day they will die, and these songs will be gone. We want to Inherit our own culture, but our culture is disappearing in front our eyes. Now is the time to teach our children, and this is my greatest wish.”

Chemin Primary School has brought in bilingual teaching and nationality culture into the classroom; through formal school education, the program is also to make sure children fully understand their own cultures, to cultivate interest in learning, and to save the ancient culture of the Dong, so that it can be inherited. To fully incorporate the cultural aspect of curriculums, there are at least 1-2 weekly bilingual and nationality culture classes, the main content being Dong songs, Dong pipa, Dong and Han bilingual education, Dong instruments, Dong dance and nationality minority cultural excavations. There is also a close and effective interactions between the school and the community. When there is traditional Dong festivals, the school will actively participate in the activities organized by the village, such as the Sama Festival, the nationality dance competition and so on.

The school has made a great deal of achievements in the area of cultural heritage and development. Chemin Primary School’s singing ensemble has participated in the National Minority Cup Singing Competition, Chinese children’s song and dance video performances, Guizhou Children’s Art Festival, and have all ranked ahead. The ensemble had also travelled to Shanghai to perform for the World Expo. Chen Qiongxian, a member of the ensemble, had travelled to France with China’s Children’s Art Troupe to perform.

The purpose of education for sustainable development is to make sure the students in the poorest areas get the most needed environmental awareness and knowledge to facilitate their own actions to develop their home villages. They are also to become the recipients of rich and colorful local rural cultures. Zigen getting ready to launch Rural Education for Sustainable Development Center Zigen is preparing for the launch of a Rural Education for sustainable Development Center, which focuses research and development, training, pilot project, evaluation and advocacy. For two years, Zigen has been in cooperation with Nationality Education and Multicultural Center of Beijing Normal University in developing “Towards a Sustainable Rural Development—Teachers Training”, and will publish the training manual in 2017. Also in 2017, the training will cover fifty schools in ten counties, where eco-school programs will also be implemented. Some of these schools will participate in the nomination of experimental schools for education of sustainable development by Unesco. Zigen is also cooperating with China Agricultural University in developing “Rural Sustainable Development Leadership Training, and is planning to cooperate with China Adult Education Association, in implementing the training in three counties, where pilot eco-village program will also be implemented. The objective of the center is to promote the ideas and practice of education for sustainable development in rural China.

September 3, 2018

Pat Kwei-ping Yang

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