Textbooks, Teachers and don’t mention Taiwan…

Two weeks in China with Durham University.

With help from the Stephenson College Bursary fund I took part in a trip to Shenzhen in Southern China.

The most important thing I took from our trip was how many similarities there were between the two countries and their teachers. Often we look at countries in other parts of the world in a very detached way. What I found more than anything is how much I had in common with people on the other side of the world. Teenagers, surprisingly enough, were still teenagers in China. As much as we have an image of strict disciplinarian teachers and pupils marching around courtyards, at the end of the day children are children. They played together, joked around in the corridors and teased the teachers. They even did the teacher’s marking for them!


Pupils seemed to genuinely enjoy school, and took pride in their work. Textbooks were a big part of learning in China, and are something I think we should adopt here. When I think of how much paper I go through every day on my teaching practice it makes me wince: first there’s the exercise books, then the sheets we stick in the exercise books, then the sheets they use once to read from and then throw away, and not to forget the endless spelling lists and timetables sheets. In China they have a workbook. That’s it. One for each subject which has all the information they need in it. There was no fussing handing out sheets, sharing one between two then fighting over it, or collecting them back in and inevitably losing five or six. In this way the classrooms were much more organised despite the extra twenty or so pupils!


It’s difficult not to get lured into accepting a job while in China, the teachers are respected, well paid, well rested and not overworked. And I think we could all do with a two hour nap in the middle of the day! However, I did find myself getting bored. Only teaching two 45min lessons a day was find when we were visitors to the school (with sightseeing and jet lag to get on with!) but wouldn’t be my ideal every day. The days are long, and as the resources are already provided in the form of textbooks, there isn’t much to do in the way of planning. Furthermore, I think I’d get bored re-teaching the same lesson to eight different classes, as primary teachers we’re used to constant change and excitement!


We were warned before we left not to mention the three T’s: Taiwan, Tibet and Tianamon. While in China I did notice the one topic no one mentioned: politics. While in Britain it seems I can’t finish a sentence without mentioning Brexit or spending cuts, in China the political system is rarely, if ever discussed. However, I did not get the feeling that this was a massive problem. People seemed happy, Chinese businesses were thriving, and the city seemed to be very successful, so maybe we are the ones who are too preoccupied?

Collectivism was something I noticed that was very different to attitudes in Britain. Here we are told being different is good, often actively encouraged to be so. However, in the schools in China the sense was more ‘we are all in this together, let’s stay together.’ Deviating from the group, in terms of behaviour or work attitude, was frowned upon, and pupils did not applaud disrespectful behaviour, but would be happy to tell the individual themselves to stop it.

Overall it was a great experience, and I would definitely do it again. My eyes were opened to new classroom strategies, as well as a whole new outlook on education. What struck me most however, as I have said, is the similarities between children across the globe. Children are children wherever you go!

Stockton to Shenzhen: Teaching on the Other Side of the World – a Stephenson College Bursary Funded Venture

For those of you who do Primary Ed, I’m sure that mastery and mathematics have become two words that go together like bread and butter or salt and vinegar. Don’t be fooled by this though, the Mastery approach to Maths is still quite a mystery to most people (both inside and outside of the educational bubble), so here is a quick rundown of how mastery is perceived in the UK:

  • The mastery approach originates in Asia and has been implemented into British classrooms by the Department for Education in an effort to raise the UK standing in International attainment leader boards.
  • It is an understanding that all children are capable of being successful mathematicians, if given enough time.
  • The implementation of a maths curriculum that emphasises a few, big ideas and utilises the links between different concepts.
  • The need to teach maths in greater depth, rather than accelerating through content.
  • The importance of developing a child’s ability to understand ‘why’ they are doing something and not just ‘how’.

These principals are shared and understood by most educators however my time working in different primary schools revealed that, actually, these rarely translated into teaching. In fact, what was more common is to see was a teacher put a word problem on the whiteboard at the end of a lesson as if this was enough to fulfil the mastery criteria. So why are you telling me this I hear you ask. Well, just before the Easter break, I was lucky enough, along with 13 other 3rd year Primary Ed students, to travel to Shenzhen and spend two weeks, teaching English and observing Mathematics in Chinese primary schools. Throughout the rest of this post, I will discuss what I actually discovered about teaching in China, along with other unexpected discoveries I made…mostly about food.

So, what was teaching actually like in China?

It’s fair to say that I arrived in China with a stereotyped view that Chinese children were going to be subjected to military-style discipline and would almost be robotic in their learning. For the most part this is entirely false. All the children that I had the opportunity to observe and teach were enthusiastic and loved being at school and made my time their unforgettable. Even though the language barrier was quite daunting, the children all made an effort to speak English where they could, even if my Chinese didn’t quite live up to their expectations (nĭ hăo and xièxie is about as impressive as it got…that means hello and thank you).

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I did say that it was only false for the most part and there were notable occasions, usually involving the whole school, where the children would partake in a military-style parade. In particular, this happened every Monday morning where the school would have a flag raising ceremony and then salute the Chinese flag. Although it was impressive to watch nearly 2000 children line-up and stand in a perfectly organised manner, there was also something quite eerie about it from my perspective which perhaps shows how British primary schools are quite detached from that type of regimented parading.

In terms of actual teaching. I definitely walked away feeling as though British classrooms have access to far better resources and are definitely set-out in a way that is more conducive to group work and shared learning. In Chinese classrooms, there would be around 40-50 children sat in rows. Their main resource would be a blackboard and this would have a screen in the middle showing a lesson PowerPoint. Apart from that, they only had a small range of hands-on resources for the children to use. To start with, it felt as though this would limit how the teacher could teach a certain idea, but actually, it does link to the mastery principal of offering children a smaller range of key ideas. The Chinese teachers were all fascinated by the British style of teaching and were enthused to see how we taught using group work and shared learning experiences, although this approach would be difficult to fully implement in China without rearranging the rows into groups.

What did I discover about teaching for mastery?

Well, after having numerous meetings with different Chinese teachers, it became quite clear that they were not aware of the mastery approach towards Mathematics. This is not to say that they did not teach for mastery, they just did not label it in the same way that we would in the UK. I think this is perhaps the most significant understanding that I took away from my experience in China. In the UK, we seem to have an educational system that moves from one big educational idea to the next and I suppose that really reflects our own political system. Either way, because we have these big ideas, like the mastery approach, and then move on, it prevents an educational culture from ever becoming really established. This is what stood out in Chinese education, that all of the children, parents and teachers strongly believed in their culture towards education. The teachers demonstrated a range of the mastery principals in their teaching but not because they were labelled with ‘mastery’, just because they believed that this was the right way to teach. This is something that ultimately will never be replicated in the UK, because our educational system prioritises short term attainment over long term educational success, and that’s clear to see on every school website that publishes their school Ofsted rating.

What else did I get out of the trip?
I don’t want to ramble on but I honestly could, it really was a two weeks packed with incredible experiences. To finish, this is what school dinners looked like. I’d love to tell you what each part of it actually was but nothing was labelled so yeah, it could have been anything. After a few days, we found the things that we thought were nice and stuck to those but one thing I could never get used to was how every piece of meat you had would be 90% either bone or gristle.

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The final thing to mention is a huge thank you to our Uni lecturers who organised the trip made it all possible. I know that everyone who went is grateful beyond words for all of your hard work!

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Article written by: Dan Jones




5 Ways To Travel For Cheap As A Broke University Student

With long holidays, youthful energy and the excitement of newly met friends, university is the perfect time to travel and explore the world and its diverse cultures. However, many of us are sadly limited by the digits in our bank account. The following are some tips to help you travel on a university budget:

  1. CouchSurfing

CouchSurfing is a global travel community that allows travellers to stay in a host’s spare room or sofa for free. Not only will this save you money on accommodation, but also gives you the chance to experience the way locals live their every day lives. On some occasions, generous hosts will also offer free food and give you free tours around the city.

  1. Jailbreak

Jailbreak is an event organised by many universities (including Durham!) that challenges participants to travel as far as possible without spending a single penny, within a timeframe of 36 hours. Free travel, the thrill of a competition and all for a good cause. What more could you want?

  1. Work abroad at a camp or school

This can be an incredibly fulfilling method of travelling and will look amazing on your CV! Why not get some work experience abroad by teaching English in a school, or becoming a supervisor at a summer camp? Most of these opportunities are paid jobs and will offer the experience of a lifetime.

  1. Travel Off-Season

As University students we have up to 6 months holiday. This gives us a great opportunity to take advantage of cheaper plane tickets and accommodation during the less popular months. Popular tourist locations will not only be less expensive, but also less crowded!

  1. Contiki

Contiki is a travel company for 18-35 year olds offering discounted group travel to 6 continents, including a mix of sightseeing, free time, culture, socializing, and adventure. They offer packages that include travel, accommodation, food and guides. This saves students plenty of money and valuable time and gives you the chance to make life-long friends.

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Top 5 Unmissable Holiday Destinations in 2018!

It goes without saying that nowadays students are facing an increasingly diverse and widespread list of pressures in their lives and numerous studies have shown that in the long run these exact pressures can be heavily detrimental to their mental health .  Having said that, perhaps the best remedy to re-energise yourself would be to start planning your next holiday – it’s the perfect motivation! I believe there’s no time like the present.  You can forever keep looking back at your past experiences wishing you’d been somewhere, as opposed to actually seizing the moment and going for it.  In 2018 we live in exciting times so you have to appreciate that the world is your oyster and experience all that life has to offer:

Istanbul, Turkey

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So of course being half-Turkish myself, I felt it was only right that we kicked things off with the beautiful and vibrant city of Istanbul. Let’s say you’re the type of person who craves the hustle and bustle of a major culture-rich city. If so, I predict some of the very best value for 2018 will be Istanbul.

Last year the average price paid for a room in a five-star hotel in the city was only £87 (remember, that’s the average; it will be even cheaper at quiet times). Other major landmarks include the Blue Mosque, Dolmabahce Palace, Kadıköy, Ortaköy and the (undoubtedly) breath-taking views over-looking the Bosphorus.

Phuket, Thailand

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Quite possibly one of the most naturally picturesque areas of the world. If gorgeous untouched beaches, nightlife and scenery is what you’re after, look no further. Explore Phang Nga Bay where you’ll be greeted by sheer limestone cliffs that jut vertically out of the emerald-green waters.

In a recent study conducted by Travelex, Thailand as a whole was proven to be one of the cheapest holiday destinations in the world. On average it took over 22 days to spend £250.

Copenhagen, Denmark


Probably one of the most famous areas in the heart of Copenhagen showcases the serenity of Nyhavn as seen in the photo. Also well-known for delicious pastries and confectionary, you can never go wrong with a cheeky trip to Copenhagen. Other noteworthy sites include the Rosenborg Castle and the Opera House.

Verbier, Switzerland


An attractive, modern resort built in traditional chalet style, Verbier is home to some of the most challenging and varied skiing in the Alps. With world-renowned après-ski, facilities, scenery and outstanding weather, Verbier continues to be one of the most popular ski resorts in Europe. The Swiss village is set in the gorgeous canton of Valais and there are plenty of outstanding attractions to enjoy within the area.

Santorini, Greece



If you’ve ever been on Instagram, you’ll most likely have been inundated with stunning snapshots of the Greek Island of Santorini. With some of highest relative concentration of hotels and resorts on this Island, there’s something for everyone. Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in abundance, the coastline attracts thousands of students every year. The capital of the Island, Fira, hosts a number of excellent resorts such as Kamari where the nightlife of the Island really comes out!


So there you have it. My guide of where to jet off to over the summer. Nevertheless, whether you go to one of these locations or somewhere completely different, the fundamental point we must remember is the value of living in the moment. In and amongst all the great challenges and achievements we shall face during our University Careers, we simply must give ourselves some down time to de-stress. For that precise reason, this post was aimed at highlighting some of the wonderful ways in which you could spend your Easter or Summer holidays relaxing and regenerating before you start the new year or work.