Deeply impoverished county transforms into educational beacon in Wumeng Mountains region by Yan Bin, October 08, 2023
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Students study at Zhenxiong High School Affiliated to Yunnan Normal University. (Xinhua Daily Telegraph/Jiang Wenyao)

A university student who grew up in an impoverished household in the Wumeng Mountains region of southern China, which refers to the area encompassing the vast range stretching between Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, Cheng Yudi has been studying hard in order to secure a more prosperous future.

A few years ago, the Gaoqiao village, Niuchang township, Zhenxiong county, Zhaotong city, Yunnan province, native graduated from Niuchang’s Gaoqiao Nine-year Compulsory Education School and began attending Zhenxiong High School Affiliated to Yunnan Normal University.

Cheng's life took a sudden turn for the worse when her father died of cirrhosis and her mother left home during her junior year of high school. She recently mentioned that her teachers supported her no matter what grades she received and that she felt grateful to attend a school with this type of environment and stated that this made it easier for her to get through this period.

In 2019, Cheng was admitted to Nankai University in the city of Tianjin after scoring 666 points out of 750 on her Gaokao examination– a test taken during the final year of high school in China that is the only university admissions determinant in the country– and began pursuing a degree in clinical medicine. She noted that her high school made her believe that students who grow up in poverty-stricken households can do as well as everyone else.

Located in the heart of the Wumeng Mountains region, Zhenxiong was home to more impoverished people than any other county in China before it emerged from poverty in November 2020.

The administrative area has engaged in extensive education-oriented poverty alleviation in order to stem the intergenerational transmission of poverty, and the founding of Zhenxiong High School Affiliated to Yunnan Normal University has been an integral part of the undertaking.

Improving teaching quality with a system involving three types of preparation

The school has proactively pursued educational reform; implemented a lesson planning system involving three types of preparation; utilized a learning model in which students are encouraged to participate actively rather than passively, think about the learning process, cooperate in exploration, exchange, reflection, criticism, and innovation, and take initiative; offered innovative political and ideological education; and taken other measures to enhance the quality of the education that it provides. These efforts and Zhenxiong’s overall poverty alleviation campaign have resulted in it transforming from a deeply impoverished county into a prospering educational beacon.

Previously consumed with worry over the issue of where their children would attend high school, Zhenxiong parents have not needed to think about it since Zhenxiong High School Affiliated to Yunnan Normal University was cofounded by the county and the university with the assistance of 10 experts from the higher education institution who helped establish its departments and shape its administration in 2016.

Many parents were skeptical of the school at first, however, so its principal, Hu Kezhou, had to ensure that the public could accept and understand it. He believes that improving the quality of a school starts in the classroom and that high-quality lesson planning is key to improving classrooms.

Most of the teachers who work at the school are recent graduates, so it was necessary for them to develop their teaching abilities to a greater degree. Hu feels that teamwork is an essential part of running a school and that it should be utilized in order to improve lesson planning.

The principal creatively proposed that a lesson planning system based on his previous experience running a school involving three types of preparation, namely independent diversified preparation, cooperative collective preparation, and individual characteristic preparation, be implemented. He also stipulated that one major topic  should be covered per week in each class and that planning should be completed a week before it is taught.

Enrollment has increased from 1,300 pupils to 8,355 since Zhenxiong High School Affiliated to Yunnan Normal University opened its doors. All of the 1,464 students who took the Gaokao in 2020 or 2021 were accepted to a university, with 90.1 percent of those who did so in 2021 being admitted to top universities, including 246 students who were accepted into“double first-rate” programs, or programs related to scientific and technological innovation, advanced concepts and ideas, and excellent culture offered by top universities.

Zhenxiong High School Affiliated to Yunnan Normal University has greatly improved high school education in Zhenxiong. Many students who are from the county but have been studying elsewhere have transferred to the institution, and students from the cities of Kunming and Qujing and other areas have even been enrolling in it. The unremitting efforts that have been made have helped illuminate the Wumeng Mountainous region and enabled Zhenxiong’s students to break the cycle of poverty.