Havant & South Downs College’s Director of Business, Growth and Innovation, Aaron Butson speaks about his experience traveling to China to deliver a week-long pilot course to students.

Following a year of development work, this May Learning Manager Lisa Portal and I went to China to deliver our first course to Chinese students. In addition to the teaching, this trip also looked at further opportunities in order to grow an International Department from the seeds of an idea dating back to Christmas 2017.

Both of us realise that we were very lucky to have this experience. After all, we did get the opportunity to visit some iconic places including the Summer Palace, Tianemen Square and Forbidden Palace and we walked (albeit a tiny portion) of the Great Wall. However, I can promise you we also had many challenges to overcome.

What was the idea behind going to China?

The original concept developed with my contact in China was for an introduction to early years techniques to Chinese college graduates from their equivalent early years programme. The project was in conjunction with a recruitment organisation in China that recruits these graduates to work in nurseries.

The organisation felt that if graduates could demonstrate, at the very least, some understanding of how to teach English to Chinese children in a traditional English style, this would make them more employable. This project was in collaboration with Loughborough College and in the early stages of the project members of both college’s early years teams, including HSDC Early Years Lecturer Jill Clausen, met to design a week-long project.

Where there any Challenges putting this together?

Working with China has proven to be challenging in terms of agreeing the parameters of the project, managing the expectations of the outcomes and agreeing a timescale for the first week of delivery. Communication difficulties and time differences have all had an impact. Eventually, this resulted in us delivering a pilot project in May.

The teaching took place in Beijing and we left England on Friday, 10 May, arriving on Saturday morning Beijing time, giving us a day and half to overcome any travel fatigue. Unbeknown to us, our hosts had organised a visit to the Summer Palace (home of the last Emperor) on Saturday afternoon and Tianemem Square and the Forbidden City on the Sunday. These were amazing experiences. Neither of us thought we would ever stand in front of the iconic painting of Chairman Mao and yet there we were doing exactly that. However, it must be said it was very much in an English rain setting!

On Monday we finally met the group we were teaching – who were not what we had been expecting! Lisa discovered she was teaching a group of parents from a group called Tulip Community, a social enterprise style organisation that works with parents in the community helping them with childcare, nutrition advice and other social responsibilities.

It was at this point that Lisa demonstrated outstanding resilience and adaptability. We put our heads together and put together a TEFL-style introduction session for the first morning. This enabled us to gauge their level of English, hopefully relax them, and give Lisa some breathing space to rethink how she was going to deliver this programme to a cohort of students she wasn’t quite expecting.

What did Lisa teach?

Lisa had a group of 19 parents. She did a combination of TEFL-style teaching and introduced some early years techniques to demonstrate how to make reading fun for children, and how to get the most out of nursery rhymes. She used various techniques such as singing, actions and arts and crafts, whilst at the same time increased their confidence in speaking English immeasurably.

All of this culminated in an end of week presentation by the four different groups on an outdoor stage within their community. China was introduced to Lisa singing ‘Head Shoulder Knees and Toes’ accompanied by her 19 strong backing singers. It was quite a sight!

We were proud to show the impact one week of expert teaching can have. Several of the group could speak no English on Monday morning but could read a story in English to their child on Friday. The same mothers could also extend their English vocabulary beyond the story building on ideas such as colours, shapes, numbers and feelings. It was a moving certificate ceremony with each student hugging Lisa and proudly holding their certificate in a whole group photo.

What Next?

The Tulip Community has over 1,000 families in Beijing alone. It has other communities in approximately 17 other Provinces in China. There are tremendous opportunities to create further programmes to work with families in these communities to help parents with their children’s English.

There are also wider opportunities to develop the skills of some individuals to reach a standard where they can study abroad, hopefully at one of the three campuses of HSDC.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that Alton already has international students studying A Levels. I have managed to get HSDC a Tier 4 licence which enables all three campuses to accept A Level and Level 3+ vocational students on two-year programmes. This is an amazing opportunity to develop alternative funding into the College as well as diversifying the student body.


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