Penn students apply to Teach For China
Program geared to closing China's inequality gap
February 22, 2012, 11:45 pm·
Razzi Abuissa | DP
Less than two percent of children in rural China who enter elementary school continue on to college. Teach For China is determined to change that.
TFC is one of 23 partners of Teach For All — a nonprofit organization created by Teach For America and Teach First, the United Kingdom’s educational program inspired by TFA. TFC, in its fourth year internationally, began its campus ambassador program at Penn this academic year.
To date, only two Penn graduates have participated in the program — 2011 College graduates Kaede Kawauchi and David Li, according to Anthony Nguyen, the U.S. Recruiting and University Relations Manager for TFC.
This year, however, 18 Penn students have applied to the program.
TFC, which operates a rolling admissions system, has accepted five Penn students so far, Nguyen said.
“For students at UPenn and students in general, this is a tremendous leadership opportunity,” he said.
“The problems that we face in China are incredibly important and urgent,” Nguyen added. Seventy percent of students in China’s major cities continue on to higher education. Only two percent of students from rural China, however, attend college, according to the TFC 2010-2011 annual report.
Nguyen said TFC “foreign fellows” — fellows from the United States — usually teach English at the middle school level. Fellows are not required to know Chinese, although a basic knowledge of the language is preferred, according to Penn Campus Ambassador for TFC Nora Castle, a College sophomore.
A crash course for accepted fellows in basic Chinese will be provided for non-speakers. TFC is the only international Teach for All program that actively recruits in America.
Demand for English language instruction is in high demand in China because proficiency in English is required to pass the Gao Kao, the college entrance examination, Castle said.
Two tests determine the educational future of Chinese youth. Before the Gao Kao, the Zhong Kao is a test that determines if middle school students can attend high school.
The structure of the Chinese education system may be blamed for contributing to the inequality of the Chinese education system.
There is a large discrepancy between schools in rural and urban areas. Nguyen said rural schools are not well staffed and many teachers are not qualified to teach. These factors lead to millions of children dropping out of school and finding work in agriculture or in factories.
Nguyen added that rural China needs teachers who believe students can achieve, which will translate to students believing they can achieve.
Castle said the Zhong Kao and Gao Kao are meant to equalize educational opportunities for rural and urban children, but “that sort of ignores the fact that most of these [rural students] don’t even make it to middle school, let alone high school which helps prepare them for the Gao Kao.”
To combat the inequality, TFC looks to recruit fellows from all different backgrounds.
Though there is debate surrounding TFA about whether minority students learn best from minority teachers, Nguyen does not believe TFC faces the same concerns.
“The challenge [of race] in China doesn’t translate exactly to how it is in America,” he said. “In China, race isn’t so part of civil discourse as it is in the U.S. People consider themselves Chinese for the most part.”
College senior Paul Martin is a current TFC and TFA applicant. As a caucasian, he does not believe his race will be an issue if he teaches in China. However, he recognizes that it could be an issue for other races.
College senior Karla Forjoe, who is Ghanaian, is also applying to TFC. She said she does expect that her students and colleagues will view her differently. “It’s a visible difference, but that does not mean I expect them to view me negatively.” Overall, Forjoe is very “excited” about the program, noting that it will be “adventurous.”
Both Martin and Forjoe said they are concerned with the education inequity in China and want to make a difference in their potential students’ lives.
As an East Asian Studies major, Forjoe has a personal interest in Asia. “I want to help the underprivileged, but I’d most like to do it in China,” she said.
Martin believes becoming a TFC fellow is “a good way as an American citizen to be able to help reform China.”
The TFC deadline for 2012 has passed, but the application for the 2013-2015 fellowship will become available this summer.
This article has been revised to reflect that 2011 College graduate Kaede Kawauchi was not the only Penn graduate who has participated in Teach for China. To date, there have two Penn graduates involved.