Teacher-training pays dividends

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2011, 12:00am


An English-language teacher training programme started by a Hong Kong nun in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake has grown into an international effort that is gaining momentum and popularity among mainland teachers.

Sister Margaret Wong from St Paul's Convent School decided to start training two teachers a month in 2009, after visiting Sichuan and seeing a dire need for teacher training.

The programme has since evolved into two month-long training trips a year to Sichuan and all- expenses-paid summer trips to Hong Kong for Sichuan teachers.

Canadian teachers with expertise in teaching English as a second language (ESL) have also been brought in as instructors. So far, the programme has trained more than 430 Sichuan teachers, each of whom teaches about 100 students a year.

'I felt that we could start small, but we had to start doing something,' Wong said.

Stephen Wong, founder of the Canada-China Culture and Education Association and the Canada co-ordinator of the project, said he decided to pool resources and work with Sister Margaret in mid-2009 so more teachers could benefit. '[The central government] has built 67 new school buildings in Sichuan since the quake, but they are only shells,' Stephen Wong said. 'Whether the students can learn really depends on their teachers.'

This year, 172 teachers from Sichuan were sponsored to come to Hong Kong for two weeks of training on student-oriented and interactive ESL teaching methods. Twenty-six certified teachers and two principals from Canada are flown in to do the training. 'It's also an eye-opening experience for [Canadian teachers] - a lot of our students in Canada are from China, and this helps us understand them more,' Canadian school principal Matt Champion said.

Sichuan high school English teacher Caul Cai Qi said the programme was a great opportunity for him. 'Student-centred teaching approaches aren't used much in China, so this is very useful,' Cai said.

Julia Pu Jingrong, also a teacher from Sichuan, said Hong Kong had 'really opened our eyes to what we can do as teachers'. But the strategies had to be adapted to suit the bigger classes on the mainland.

The programme runs solely on donations. Last year, Air Canada donated plane tickets, and this year Unicef used its air miles to redeem free tickets for the programme. The provincial government pays the air fares for the mainland teachers.