Joining Hands – Making Quality Education Happen in Rural Areas

Education is one tree shaking another tree, one cloud pushing another cloud, one soul awakening another soul. ” —— Karl Jaspers

Hongbo School first encountered Stepping Stones in 2014. Since then, English-focused teaching activities have started at Hongbo School.

On May 13, 2024, two Stepping Stones staff members and ten PwC volunteers visited Sun Ji Yuan Hongbo School, bringing a different kind of curriculum to all the students. 

Over the course of a week, the volunteer teachers established the sincerest relationships with the children at Hongbo School. They introduced painless and efficient classroom experiences to the students.

They engaged the children in making fruit platters out of clay, during which the children remembered the words for the fruits they created and could read them aloud; they sang English songs and danced with the children; they taught English classes in a playful way. The children especially enjoyed these.

Outside of class, the volunteers played games with the children and paid special attention to their family situations and school life.

They captured the children’s clear and innocent eyes with their cameras and expressed their emotions, saying, ‘These 10 minutes after class are truly joyful and free!’

Stepping Stones volunteers brought social-emotional lessons to the children — My Journey with Emotions, helping them recognise what they like and dislike. They also conducted career planning lessons for the seventh graders, providing the middle schoolers with courage and faith for the future.

As the willow fluff flew through the air, they designed a month-long project-based learning course for the seventh graders about “willow fluff” — identifying problems, posing questions, solving problems.

Time flew by, and Friday came quickly. There are always tears on the day of departure, as the children clung to the volunteers, unwilling to let them go. Their brief stay allowed the teachers and students of Hongbo School to feel their kindness, optimism, and love. Their smiles, words, and actions made everyone at Hongbo School feel the beauty and happiness of life.

Their visit made the students of Hongbo School cherish their encounters and interactions even more. They were not just passing through; they were seeds planted in the children’s dreams.

The principal said: “Rural revitalization starts with education. Special thanks to the volunteers from all over for supporting Hongbo School, making good education happen in the countryside. Let rural children share quality educational resources, showing them a broader and more exciting world.

The second decade of Hongbo School and Stepping Stones has begun, and I’m truly happy. Safe travels to all the volunteers! Hongbo School is everyone’s home in the village; remember to come back and visit.”

Teachers’ impressions of the volunteer teaching week

Teacher Liu Xiaohui said: “students benefited greatly from the teaching volunteers’ visit this week. The students were thrilled, seeing improvements in their English fluency and experiencing deep emotional impacts. They learned important life lessons and the significance of education. When the volunteers presented a map to the students, pointing out their country’s location, they also inspired them to have dreams, chase those dreams, and move forward bravely. It was deeply moving indeed!”

Teacher Sun Yan Ying commented: “From explaining basic knowledge points and teaching phonetics to ensuring accurate pronunciation! English songs enhance the students’ enthusiasm for learning English! Patient teaching! Thumbs up!”

Teacher Wang Yan Qiu mentioned how during an English art class on recognising colours, each child’s smile was brilliant, showing they genuinely enjoyed the class. This made a deep impression on her and inspired her deeply: as long as the children like the classroom atmosphere, they can fully engage in learning. This gave her new classroom ideas, which she plans to implement in her own classes to make the children love her lessons!

Teacher Nie Jia Ni likes the diverse teaching methods of integrating English literacy, crafts, spoken English. Not only did the children learned through play, what’s more important is that the children were very happy! The children at Hongbo School are fortunate and always enjoy the warmth brought by charity. “Learning can be fun and interactive; who wants to just memorise facts anymore? By engaging in their favourite games while studying, who would prefer to constantly do practice exercises? With insights from international teachers expanding their worldview, who would continue to be engrossed in the trivialities of smartphones? The ability to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life is enriched by these dynamic emotional exchanges.”

Teacher Sun Yuehua said that the students were very happy and enjoyed the week with the teaching volunteers, who were kind to the students and encouraged them frequently during class, carefully questioning each child. She praised the teaching volunteers!

Teacher Liu Yanjun mentioned that the teaching week was very beneficial, feeling the students’ excitement about the teaching volunteers’ arrival. During this period, the students’ spoken English improved. The most memorable part was learning English vocabulary in exchange for handicraft materials, which motivated the students to learn English. She plans to apply this game to her Chinese language classes, using memorisation of ancient poems and texts.

Other role-playing games also engaged the students in the courses, which she plans to incorporate into her own classes to make the students enjoy the classroom atmosphere more.

Teacher Wei Dongxia was most impressed by the teachers’ extensive knowledge coverage and profound expertise in English. When teaching the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” after finishing, the teacher asked, “What other parts of the body do you want to learn?” The students eagerly responded with “lungs”, “kidneys”, “throat”, “eyeballs” and other less common vocabulary, which they could quickly spell and pronounce. She admired them greatly and believed the students also respected the teachers. Having extensive knowledge is crucial for teachers, and the teaching volunteers not only brought high-quality classes but also provided great inspiration. Thank you!

Teacher Wang Weihuan said that during the week the teaching volunteers were there, he studied along with the students, experiencing being a student again. He placed himself among the students to feel their classroom mood, this will help him identify issues when students didn’t want to listen to the class in the future.

The two sixth-grade teaching volunteers corrected the children’s English pronunciation, encouraged them to speak English, and fostered their sense of reading English. One of the classes that moved him deeply was the integration of aesthetic education and English lessons, where children desperately remembered words and sentences to obtain clay for making fruits. After completing it, they expressed in English what fruit they made and what colors they used. Another class talked about career planning, where the students sat on the floor and the teacher kneeled in their circle so they could make eye contact with every student. The teaching volunteers not only brought different classroom experiences to the students but also broadened their horizons, leading them to understand different worlds. It was a growth experience for both him and the children.

Teacher Zhang Jing said: “During the English teaching week, the language was concise, and the class procedure was tight. The children looked forward to what would be taught next, learning about fruits from their colors, shapes, and tastes, making it easy to learn English songs and remember the lyrics. The two teachers worked well together, with detailed observation, they could accurately gauge the children’s psychology. Their writing was also beautiful.”

Teacher Song Ruili said: “The biggest impression from the teaching week was that the teaching volunteers were very patient. They would bend down to seriously listen to the children’s ideas. For example, when the teacher asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, facing the children’s wild imaginations, they would encourage them to bravely pursue their dreams. She also learned many new methods for teaching English, allowing students to learn more knowledge through games.”

Teacher Wang Beibei said: “During the week the teaching volunteers were there, she deeply felt the teachers’ have extensive knowledge, which made her realize the importance of continuous learning and improvement. During class, the teachers constantly engaged the students’ enthusiasm and initiative for learning, making her understand that the best way for students to learn is for them to be willing to actively learn. Teachers can guide students, make them interested in learning, help them learn, and allow them to learn actively and happily.”

Teacher Liang Saisai said: “The biggest impression from the teaching week was that the teaching volunteers were very patient. They would patiently listen to the students’ real thoughts, teaching English songs while letting the students unknowingly learn many English words. Their new teaching methods more effectively attracted the students’ interest in learning, enabling them to learn more knowledge through play.”

Teacher Liang Yishen said: The teaching volunteers not only had a rich knowledge reserve but also possessed high teaching ethics. They could help broaden the children’s horizons and solve their problems. They were full of passion in class and could play with the children outside of class, allowing the children to learn and gain knowledge through play.