Expat Americans looking for an overseas opportunity in the field of education at primary, middle or high schools in China are no longer limited to teaching English. Over the last eighteen years much has changed in Chinese education on all levels, but most profoundly in the pre-university educational system.
The dramatic changes grew out of a very specific event in Sichuan Province in 1991. The establishment of the Guangya International School was a shot heard across the land. It opened the floodgates for the re-establishment of private education in modern China. By 1993, more than 3,000 similar schools had opened up to record enrollments and great expectations, literally revolutionizing some basic tenets of post-1949 Chinese education.
Unlike many of the private schools that opened in its dramatic wake, the Guangya School still stands and has expanded to include two kindergartens, a primary school, middle school, high school and its own college. The School is a vibrant and fascinating ongoing experiment in the power of education to change lives and build cultural bridges. And, for anyone looking for an adventure teaching in China, the Guangya School actively recruits professional teachers and educational administrators from around the world.
The Guangya School recruiting materials state:
Well known international private boarding school offering IB diploma to Chinese students needs IB/AL high school teachers in any subject area, including math, geography, chemistry, physics, English, Mandarin, and other subjects. This private high school program has a wonderful teacher-student ratio of approximately 1:6. Students are highly motivated for preparation to attend U.S./British/Australian colleges and universities. To date the IB program has a 100% acceptance rate for students at universities abroad.
Currently more than thirty native English speaking foreign national instructors live on campus, twenty-four of whom teach high school classes.
Compensation package includes free tuition for children of instructors (please ask for details), partial reimbursement up to USD $1,500 for health insurance costs (school also has a medical facility on site), annual travel stipend of USD $1,500 for international or domestic travel, and other benefits.
Returned PRC nationals with excellent English skills (e.g., Master’s degree level) obtained from living/studying in a country where English is the native language are welcome to apply in any subject area.
Whether you teach art, physics, history, modern languages or any other subject, the Guangya School has students eager to learn. If you are an educational administrator, a librarian, or a researcher, the School hopes you will let them know you are available to work on site for a semester or a lifetime.
History of the Guangya International School
When the Guangya International School opened its doors in 1992 to a class of about twenty paying kindergarten students with tuition of USD $5,000 each per year for room, board and education, the story went viral in China. Guangya was the first school to open as a private educational institution since 1949, when all such schools were closed.
After generations of support and funding from American philanthropic and religious organizations for private schools throughout China, the heating up of the war in Korea had brought a dramatic end to the alternative to public education. In 1951, American teachers and administrators withdrew from China when the State Council passed the Resolution on American Funded Educational and Philanthropic Institutions and Religious Organizations. This resolution removed American influence on China’s education and moved China toward recapturing educational sovereignty. All ties between Chinese schools and the United States were ordered severed. From 1951 until 1992, private primary and secondary education as an institutional form of education disappeared from China.
Then, private schools suddenly exploded again. The initial blast of the Guangya International School has been documented in two seminal works on private education in China: Private Education in Modern China by Peng Deng (1996) and Social Transformation and Private Education in China By Jing Lin (1999).
In the first text, author Peng Deng states:
“The first openly labeled ‘private’ school since the mid-1950’s was probably Private Guangya School in Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province. Opened in June 1992, by Qing Guangya, a successful and farsighted entrepreneur, Guangya School caused an instant sensation. A visionary and innovative administrator, Qing gave his school a unique identity by building a picturesque campus and implementing a revolutionary teaching philosophy in the classroom. He shocked many conventional minds by openly admitting the allegedly ‘aristocratic’ nature of his school. Although located in the remote southwest, Guangya School nevertheless hit the headlines in both the Western and Chinese media and attracted a constant flow of teachers from all over China and from foreign counties. The founding of this private school was coincided with China’s recovery from the ideological retrogression in the wake of the Tiananmen Square incident of June 4, 1989. Following elder statesman Deng Xiaoping’s South China tour earlier that year, it signified the beginning of a new phase in China’s educational reform and ushered in an unprecedented wave of private schools.”
In the second book, author Jing Lin explains:
“The first private school to thrust private education into the spotlight was the Guangya Primary School, set up in August 1992 in … Sichuan province. Dubbed the ‘first school for [training] aristocrats in China,’ it caught national and international attention for its high tuition and fees, promise of high teaching quality, and superior learning conditions (such as computers, color TVs, and pianos installed in air-conditioned classrooms). Other features of the school, such as class size, comfortable living conditions, foreign teachers teaching all subjects in English, and standard running tracks, also aroused much curiosity.“
This was a time of uneasy transition in China. Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 swing through southern China had emboldened a few in areas, like education, that had been considered off-limits. The manner in which Qing opened the school created not a quiet undercurrent, but a loud, crashing tidal wave. By symbolizing the need for choice in education, the School openly embraced the “aristocratic” label given it by newspapers and provided trappings to set it boldly apart from crumbling public institutions. Qing’s designer even painted all his classroom buildings red, white and blue. It appeared to some that the buildings literally provided an American symbol on the ground. Qing’s polar opposite to state-controlled Chinese education invited reaction from all of officialdom and the public.
And react they did. Parents, students, educators and government officials arrived in droves. Local press and soon international press began to write widely about the school. Entrepreneurs who wanted to franchise the idea came to see if it would work for them. Americans living in China dropped by to see if there really would be a difference in education at this school. Even Japanese tour groups took time from their trips to the famous irrigation project at Dujiangyan to drop by and marvel at this experiment. More than 30,000 visitors between 1992 and 1993, arrived at the Guangya School to enroll, to question, to study, to gawk, to teach, to donate and to contribute. Within the first week an official group from Guangzhou visited. They intended to immediately copy the Guangya School in their own province. By the end of the second month, members from the National People’s Congress had visited.
Within three days of the school’s opening, more than 280 national Chinese newspapers and magazines had carried Xinhua-produced news of the Guangya School, its opening and its headmaster. A few thousand smaller local Chinese papers and magazines also soon carried the Xinhua piece or wrote pieces of their own. The international press around the world picked up the stories. The International Herald Tribune reported the entrepreneurial breakthrough on February 17, 1993. Newsweek published the first English language U.S. account of the new school in a March 8, 1993, article. The Washington Post followed with a front page spread on March 20, 1993. An early 1994 Associated Press article appeared widely throughout newspapers in the U.S. (e.g., The Orlando Sentinel, The Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, The New Jersey Record, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and others) and Asia (e.g., Thailand, Taiwan, Japan).
To most of China, it seemed the school had appeared from nowhere, but they perceived it clearly as a bellwether. Although many criticized the school, most were simply holding their breath to see how long it would survive since there was strong opposition to it in general.
In 1994, with what appeared a stable future in front of him, Qing began traveling abroad at the invitation of other schools and educational organizations. However, in January 1995, articles began to appear in the Chinese press complaining about foreign teachers working among small children, thus affecting their loyalties and ideas and about private schools creating an inequality among classes; and fostering social injustice.
Luckily, Qing’s Guangya School has survived and become an innovator and leader in several areas. Now, each year, Sichuan Education College holds one-month training classes for local level principals, of primary and secondary schools in the province. For the past nine years the last day of class is devoted to a field trip to the Guangya School. On these days, hundreds of principals from all over the province learn about the history and development of the Guangya School. They are encouraged by the Education College to take this idea of private education “done right” back to their districts as a means to promote private education or simply to improve their own educational endeavors.
The Changes in China’s Private and Public Education
From 1992 to the present, non-tertiary level private education has come to mean many different things. Schools and programs are separated by funding sources (individual vs. community, venture capital vs. real estate development funded, government-sponsored vs. non-government sponsored, foreign joint ventures vs. wholly owned Chinese schools). These schools were of all sorts: boarding schools, vocational schools, specialty schools (e.g., foreign language or art concentration). However, statistics show steady growth through the years. Statistics show that by the end of 2002, about 61,200 privately funded schools enrolled more than 11 million students.
In a conversation in February 2004 with Zhang Shuji, the peasant who actually sold land to Qing Guangya, he recalled the larger effect the Guangya School had on his community. Seeing that their own children had poor access to education, the Guangya School set an excellent example for the community. Mr. Zhang made arrangements for the village to build its own public school behind Guangya School in 1994. “It was a real culture shock for us to see the Guangya School. We began to understand what we were lacking culturally by having no decent local educational facilities of our own. Although we didn’t have the advanced facilities of the Guangya School, we received an influence from the beauty of the School.” Since the village children couldn’t afford to attend the Guangya School, the new facility offered no competition to Guangya. Qing even sent his American teachers to the new facility to offer daily English classes to the village children. Unfortunately, due to poor construction methods, this village school collapsed in the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, while the Guangya School lost only a small part of its exterior wall.
In addition to the various schools, Headmaster Qing Guangya has also ventured out into the area of community service. Mr. Qing runs regular programs each year for rural primary and secondary English teachers from Sichuan Province. While he initially created and ran this program at his own expense, the local Intel office in Sichuan as well as a private foundation have donated teachers and computers to help in the training of these rural teachers, who otherwise have almost no access to continuing education opportunities. Over the years, Mr. Qing, at his own expense, has actively sought out and introduced into the school community many orphans from minority communities in the area. He believes these service efforts offer diversity to the school and help make real his school motto of “Honesty, Integrity, Bravery, Compassion.”
Now, after eighteen years of experience with private education, Chinese society has come to welcome and accept private education as a mainstream choice for parents. In fact, to the benefit of the public, the development of private education also spurred the field of public education to change and improve facilities, faculties and administration. As time went on and public schools improved dramatically, it became more and more obvious that the only competition that would exist between any schools was how students scored on the national standardized college entrance test, called the “gaokao.”
This market for high scores on the national standardized college entrance test has created a situation in which there is no credible distinction between public and private schools today. The only distinction of value between schools now in China is how students do on the standardized test and the resulting types of universities for which students are selected. As a result, most private facilities work specifically at training students for the test rather than commit to the pursuit of creative curriculum.
Unlike other public or private schools in China, the Guangya School now focuses on protecting its unique market and maintaining a strong program for children whose parents want them to study overseas. Although the School offers the traditional curriculum leading to the “gaokao” for entry to Chinese universities, the most popular of the Guangya programs is the “non-gaokao” track. This program stresses foreign teaching methods, foreign languages, and creative problem solving. Currently, the high school graduates of Guangya’s International Baccalaureate program avoid the “gaokao” and overwhelming choose foreign colleges and universities. To date, Guangya School students who choose to study overseas have a 100% acceptance rate. Some of the earliest graduates are already in Ph.D. programs overseas or have started their own businesses.
The unique Guangya School started a modern educational revolution in China, giving birth to the now more than 5,000 private educational institutions in China today. Papers and information on the opening of the Guangya School, its development and history are housed at the Hoover Archives at Stanford University. Anyone interested in joining this unique environment and working at or doing research at the school can contact the Guangya School at guangya1992@ 163.com