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China Focus: Arts education in rural areas

(Xinhua)    16:32, February 04, 2015

BEIJING, Feb. 4 -- "Left toes pointed back, arms raised to your sides, knees bent, bodies slightly forward."

In Anxin County in north China's Hebei Province, 20 girls from Duan village elementary school's ballet group welcome guests to a sports event.

The performance filled Li Feng with pride, as he only established the Beijing Hefeng Art Foundation in 2013, to bring the arts to children in rural areas.


In 2012, Li laid down his golfs to spend his weekend promoting the arts in Duan Village. Since then, every Saturday he has driven voluntary teachers from the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing Dance Academy and Beijing Normal University to the remote village to teach the children.

However, despite his efforts, not everyone holds the arts in such high esteem. In December last year, when Li was watching the student's end of semester performance, he noticed that two of his favorite flute players were absent.

Their teacher said they had left the class, even though just two weeks before one had performed in Beijing with the school orchestra.

"They are in the sixth grade now and are afraid of failing their exams," a boy in the fifth grade told a Xinhua reporter.

Duan Village school was the first rural school to see the potential in offering its pupils art lessons.

"Art is not a dispensable part of education, it's like giving kids vitamins to aid growth, you need to start early," Li said. "It will inspire creativity," he said.


Despite the success of the initiative, the challenge is people's attitudes to the arts.

Li Jianxue, the headmaster of the school, said parents worry about their children's grades.

"The arts are the first to go if kids are failing in other subjects," he said.

"I can understand their concerns. In remote areas, education is often the only way out of poverty," said Lai Chao, the secretary-general of the Western Sunshine Foundation, who has been working in rural education for seven years.

"We must ask ourselves if rote learning to prepare for the college entrance exam suits all children equally," Lai said.

She said securing a high school place was becoming more difficult for children in rural areas, let alone college entrance.

He Yongqiang, the founder of Hechuan Public Benefit Development Center, said he had always wanted to work in rural education.

"I recall when I was little and my city cousins visited. They knew nothing about the fields, whereas I could easily identify edible plants. It gave me a sense of pride," He said.

Originally from Fuyang village in the east province of Anhui, He left a public offering foundation in Beijing to establish his own development center in July 2014.

"Kids in rural areas have lost their connection to the land, just like their city counterparts."

Children are kept inside their homes to prevent them from drowning and pesticides have made the crops fields unsafe to eat, He continued.

"Education can have a positive impact on people's lives, including moving into cities and having a better life, but it is more important that education builds our 'healthy values'."

According to He, education needs schools, families and communities, and rural areas lacks this synergy.

The Hechuan center piloted its program in a Tibetan village in the Sichuan county of Baoxing.

Since September, they have taught folk dance; oral history passed down from their grandparents; and traditional needle work.

"Education focusing on our traditions makes up for a lack of community education. You have to teach children to love the land, the place where they are from. It's very important," He said.


"What I admire about Li and He is that they have provided these opportunities to children during their formative years," Lai said.

When one student, Liu, first laid her hands on a clarinet, she could not make a sound, now she can play "twinkle twinkle little star".

Her mother said she was thankful to the Hefeng Foundation for providing her daughter with this unusual opportunity.

"I just want these children to have confidence and self respect, they may be poor but art can bring them happiness," Li said.

However, with more than 3,000 counties and over 20,000 townships. Will the efforts made by people like Li bring any change at all?

"What we should consider now is how to work with the government to see real change," Lai said.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Yuan Can,Gao Yinan)

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