Author: Davis, Greer
Date published: March 1, 2012
"Having returned from Beijing yesterday, I'm contacting you with an idea that might catch your interest," read an e-mail we received from our faculty advisor, Dr. Caven Mcloughlin in mid-December 2010. What followed in May 2011 was a month-long trip to Beijing, People's Republic of China (PRC). There, we (three first-year school psychology trainees) tackled the task of working at the Golden Cradle Potential Developing Educational Institute with the ultimate goal of gaining a better understanding of the Chinese culture and applying this knowledge to the practice of school psychology.
It is clear that all school psychologists need to be culturally responsive in their practice. Furthermore, each culture is unique; thus, when working with culturally diverse individuals and families, it is necessary to be culturally responsive so that students' needs can be comprehensively addressed. Specifically, the Chinese culture is one requiring particular attention due to the enormous size and influence of the country. With this in mind, it is essential to gain a better understanding and perspective of China and its culture so we may responsively meet the needs of students of similar backgrounds in American schools.
CHINESE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM: GOLDEN CRADLE
In the PRC, children are educationally groomed for potential entry into prestigious universities from as early as preschool and kindergarten. Due to the demand for early education, a thriving education industry is developing in Beijing and other major cities to provide private, model preschools and kindergartens. The Golden Cradle Schools are among the 445 privately owned preschools within the PRCs capital city, serving the fast developing affluent class. Several U.S. corporations (e.g., Montessori, Gymboree) have transplantedtheir models to Chinese cities but have failed to flourish because they do not adapt their curriculum practices or educational goals to reflect Chinese ideals or priorities.
The Golden Cradle was founded in 1995 by Dr. Cheng Yue, a longtime associate of Caven Mcloughlin, and has grown to a network of more than 100 schools throughout China serving children from infancy through 6 years. A primary school has also been established to serve the majority of Beijing kindergarten graduates, providing curriculum for first through sixth grade. All the students within Golden Cradle follow the research-based curriculum created by the Golden Cradle team, which focuses on number skills, Chinese characters, reading classical Chinese poetry, and basic English language reading and writing.
Prior to our trip to Beijing, we spent ayear as in a model preschool facility in Ohio, the Family Child Learning Center (FCLC), where we were funded by a personnel preparation grant to Kent State University and Akron Children's Hospital. There, we worked in an environment providing early intervention services to families and young children (birth to 3 years) as well as preschool services for typically developing children and children with autism. Our training experience at FCLC was in a transdisciplinary environment; we were able to work alongside speech language pathologists, intervention specialists, and early interventionists.
Working in the Golden Cradle kindergartens and primary school was very rewarding. We were responsible for teaching English to children from ages 2 to 6. We taught English words, songs, and stories from the Golden Cradle English language curriculum. Typical English classes were 30 minutes in length and consisted of teaching five to ten English words from flashcards, as well as playing games for children to practice their vocabulary. The main goals in our teaching practices were to expand the tools available to the English teachers and to help improve the children's English abilities.
We were also tasked with teaching English lessons at the primary school to 35 fourth grade students who were to travel to Vancouver, Canada in the upcoming school year for several weeks of field visits. For these language lessons, we focused on improving conversational skills and knowledge of American and Canadian lifestyle and culture. We taught five lessons, each with a different theme (e.g., Canadian sports), so children could improve their English language proficiency. Most of the primary-age students were already quite skilled at reading and conversing in English; they needed only to build their confidence.
EARLY EDUCATION: COMPARING CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES
On the surface, many of the day-to-day activities in Chinese early education look and feel like their American counterparts. Yet, the emphasis is on socially correct behavior, justice, respect of elders by children, and the centrality of the family (all derived from Confucian ideals). Most activities are conducted as a group; even in early education, the collectivist approach prevails. From the early stages, classrooms appear to have clear expectations and are well ordered, organized, and unified in their purpose.
Through our experiences at Golden Cradle and FCLC, we were able to identify a number of similarities and differences between the U.S. and PRC early childhood education systems. For one, there appeared to be a positive behavior supports (PBS) system in place (although without that label). In schools, we saw a variety of goal sheets and token economies in every classroom. These PBS systems contained both positive reinforcement and response cost components. Both classroom and school-wide rules were publically posted. A feature common to Golden Cradle and FCLC was the level of parental involvement fostered through regular communication. Teachers at Golden Cradle wrote daily in notebooks for each student to advise parents about the student's progress and parents were often asked to participate in homework assignments. There was a regular newsletter distributed to the parents alerting them about upcoming events and curriculum.
Clear differences between U.S. and PRC early education systems also exist. A strong emphasis is placed on academics from a very early age, especially English-language learning. From age 2, children are learning Chinese characters and math computation (by kindergarten they are taking math tests in English). In the American early education system, emphasis is on play and social skills. Another significant difference we observed was the behavior management system used in Golden Cradle. Because of the collectivist nature of Chinese culture in which pride and honor of the family are viewed as being of utmost importance, the public administration of admonishment is deemed the most effective means of maintaining discipline.
WHAT WE LEARNED
We gained a great deal from this experience. One of the most valuable components was the experience of teaching in a structured classroom environment while learning about the challenges teachers face on a daily basis. As future school psychologists, this will help in consultation and working with teachers.
We also observed the utility and importance of using every moment within a school day for instruction For example, instead of the children simply walking up to participate in an activity, they would skip. This allowed them to practice their coordination and physical skills outside of the designatedlessons. Making use of all the available time withina school day seemed to be a hallmark of the Golden Cradle organization and is a useful tenet for school psychologists implementing interventions. We had also seen this at FCLC where the main focus was on embedding interventions within the natural environment.
Related to this, we came to realize the value of using academic skills across different settings. For example, children would count or sing songs to practice math skills while transitioning to different classes. There is an explicit focus on the development of cognitive skills; for instance, the Golden Cradle classrooms implemented many short-term memory tasks throughout the day.
From our extended time immersed within the Chinese culture, it became clear that particular school philosophies, such as Montessori, would need certain changes and modifications to be successful in culturally different environments. These changes would need to specifically consider the cultural background of students and parents. This is also true for school psychologists when designing interventions within the diverse U.S. school system.
SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY IN PRC
School psychology as we know it does not exist in China. Rather, schools receive psychological services from educational psychologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, and other professionals (Ding, Kuo, & Van Dyke, 2008). From our observations, the Golden Cradle system currently enrolls very few children with disabilities. Admissions are monitored through the administration of an intelligence assessment and a medical examination. The special education infrastructure is also relatively underdeveloped in PRC. In 1985, the PRC National Conference on Education recognized the importance of special education, through programs for gifted children and slow learners, and based upon the available literature, it appears this is still in the process of being implemented (Pang 8c Richey, 2006) . While we recognize the possibility of a role for the school psychologist within PRC educational settings, it may not soon be realized due to significant cultural factors.
However, the recognition of these cultural differences can be of great use for practicing school psychologists within the United States who are working with Chinese children and families.
Ding, Y, Kuo, Y. L., Van Dyke, D. C. (2008). School psychology in China (PRC), Hong Kong, and Taiwan: A cross-regional perspective. School Psychology International, 29(5), 529-548.
Pang, Y, & Richey, D (2006). The development of education in China. International Journal of Special Education, 27(1), 77-86.
Greer Davis, Kaitlin EiCKEMEYER,andMEAGAN Urban are second-year graduate students in the Kent State University school psychology program in Kent, OH.