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Trips take learning out of classroom

By Xing Yi in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-05 08:58
Students from Chongming High School, on Shanghai's Chongming Island, take samples in a rice field for research during a field trip last year to learn more about the island. [Photo/Xinhua]

For Chongming High School student Zhu Yuechen, "ecological civilization" was a term he learned but never really understood, until this summer.

In July, he and 16 schoolmates visited Beipu Wind Farm, one of five wind power stations on Shanghai's Chongming Island.

Located in the eastern estuary of the Yangtze River, Chongming Island, the third largest island in China, is home to an assortment of natural parks, wetlands and ecological villages. It will become a world-class ecological zone by 2050, setting a new bench mark in the protection of the ecological system along the Yangtze River, according to Shanghai's development master plan for 2017-35.

Zhu grew up on the island and had heard about the wind farms, but had never seen one. On the field trip, the students were briefed about renewable energy by the wind farm director, and shown inside one wind turbine.

"Although we learned the concept of ecological civilization from textbooks, seeing those giant wind turbines in person gave me a real example to understand the abstract term," Zhu said.

This summer, more than 300 students from Chongming High School went on such field trips all over the island - in a project called "Chongming Hundred Miles". It was initiated in 1993 by students who wanted to know more about their hometown, and thousands have participated over the past 25 years.

Shen Jianhua, 42, was one of the five students who started the project.

"Back then, most of my fellow students studied very hard at school, because we wanted to get good scores in the gaokao (the national college entrance exam) to get off the island," Shen said.

"But why? We had never really given it much thought. One day I said to some of my friends, how about we first get out of the school and see what's on the island."

That summer Shen organized a small group and spent a week visiting different villages, towns and factories. They rode bicycles from town to town and talked to farmers and workers.

"From those trips, we came to learn a lot about our island and had a better understanding of ourselves, too," Shen said.

When the school learned about their initiative, they were encouraged to continue the project. The next year, more students joined Shen.

The "Chongming Hundred Miles" is now a flagship project of the school, but it's still largely organized by students, said Jiang Shuai, the school's Communist Youth League secretary.

The student association calls for visit proposals, then selects routes and plans the logistics. After the summer, each group produces a report on what it learned from its field trip.

The topics range from the history of the island to the challenges it faces in becoming a world-class ecological island.

School principal Wu Weiguo said that when he graduated from the school in 1980, the teaching emphasis was simply on how to get high academic scores.

"But if the scores are seen only as the ticket for college, it's a problem," said Wu, who has been principal of his alma mater since 2007. "Over the years, we have shifted the emphasis from achieving high scores to student's overall development."

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