Trustee council may be answer for reforming school system

Updated: 2013-08-19 00:29

By ZHAO YINAN in Tianjin (China Daily)

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Zhou Xiaozhou said it would have been almost impossible for her to win a gold medal in a national chemistry contest without the school's lab.

The 17-year-old spent her summer vacation last year in the new chemistry lab at Tianjin Nankai High School doing experiments that are hard to carry out in an ordinary middle school lab.

Last year, Zhou was one of the gold medal winners at the National Chemistry Olympiad, a leading contest for middle school students.

Experiments have always been the weak point for many contestants, mostly because of simply equipped chemistry labs in middle schools.

"Teachers at Nankai always allow students to try it out themselves, instead of lecturing us," she said.

What Zhou may not realize is that her chemistry lab, along with many other fully equipped labs in the school, would have been impossible without the new management system at Nankai.

In spring 2010, a trustee council was set up to take charge of major affairs on campus and be responsible for fundraising. The principal could then dedicate more effort to teaching and daily operations.

Members of the trustee council are leading figures in their fields, including economist Wu Jinglian, nuclear expert Wang Dazhong and education expert Gu Mingyuan. The council meets twice a year, mapping out the school's blueprint. During the interval, the chairman oversees major affairs under the principal's assistance.

Although such arrangements are common in the West, school management under the leadership of a trustee board is rare in China.

Wang Ming, an elementary education researcher at a center affiliated with the Ministry of Education, said Nankai may cast light on other schools where management is often blamed for dampening innovation and academic spirit.

But he said the reform is difficult due to institutional barriers and the idea that a trustee council is only for private schools.

Sun Hailin, an alumnus and chairman of the trustee board, rebutted the allegation.

"There are public schools in Britain and Japan under the leadership of a trustee board. Why not in China?"

"The school is still in relentless pursuit of contributing its own share to China's elementary education," he said.

The chairman believes it would be easier for Nankai to achieve that goal under the leadership of a broad council than with a school principal due to its "unparalleled advantage" in making use of social resources.

Sun, a retired deputy mayor of Tianjin, was appointed chairman in 2010. Zhang Gaoli, the top official in Tianjin at that time and now a member of the country's top ruling political bureau, announced the decision to senior managers on campus.

The involvement of the highest-level official in the local government indicated how significant the change would be.

Sun's resourcefulness as a retired mayor and respected alumnus brought 40 million yuan ($6.5 million) to Nankai in his first year in office. A major part of the money was spent on building labs for students.

"The love and willingness to venture into an unfamiliar field comes after hands-on experience," Sun said.

History teacher Ma Likun said it is a philosophy that the school has held dear since the early years.

Founded in 1904 in the northern port city of Tianjin, one of the first places open for trade and foreign visitors in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Nankai was determined to be the "model of new education" in China from the beginning, according to the diary of Yan Xiu, founder of the school.

The school's alumni include two premiers and dozens of frontline academics. Monday marks the 100th anniversary of late premier Zhou Enlai's enrollment in the school. Former premier Wen Jiabao also studied at Nankai.

School chronicles show premier Zhou participated in after-class activities when he studied at Nankai, compiling the class chronicles, taking part in at least 14 student groups, and writing, editing and printing two campus publications, mostly on his own.

In the year marking the 100th anniversary of Zhou's enrollment, Ma said the school has encouraged students to be persistent in realizing dreams, and be as ambitious and vigorous as the premier was in his youth.

But Sun Chao, a teacher at Nankai, voiced his worries about the sustainability of the trustee system, the first term of which will come to an end next year.

"The current system offers a relaxed environment to students and allows them to make their own choices. But what if the next chairman thinks otherwise? What if the next person is not as competitive as Sun Hailin?" he asked, calling for the school to institutionalize methods that have proved successful.

"The continuity of policies is especially important in education, since a slight change may affect the entire life of a student. By institutionalizing the current trial, the merits of a trustee leadership will not be subject to changes of mind," he said.