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Where is the road to the transformation of American Chinese schools?
China Minutes
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Where is the road to the transformation of American Chinese schools?

Chinese school is an important starting point for the new generation of young people of Chinese origin to learn the language and connect to their roots in Chinese culture. However, the complex international situation of the COVID-19 epidemic has had an impact on face-to-face learning and given rise to online education. The development of Chinese schools in the United States is facing different challenges. What is the current status of Chinese schools in the United States? How should they develop in the future? Xiaopeng Ni, president of the the Chinese School Association in the United States (CSAUS), recently accepted an exclusive interview with China News Agency East Meets West to elaborate on this matter.


Xiaopeng Ni, President of the Chinese School Association in the United States - now the Chairman of Ohio Contemporary Chinese School, was also the former principal of the school. His research focal points include educational leadership, online teaching, and educational quality assessment. He is enthusiastic about being active within the community, actively promoting Chinese language teaching and the dissemination of Chinese culture, whilst implementing teaching innovations such as Chinese-American youth leadership projects, organising various community activities such as Chinese Festival, Spring Festival Gala and Mid-Autumn Festival Cultural Night.


From teaching simple Chinese language classes to build Chinese community culture, what kind of developments have American Chinese language schools experienced?

The development of Chinese schools in the United States is closely linked to the history of Chinese immigration.

In the middle of the 19th century, a large number of Chinese went to California under the influence of the "gold rush", and many of them settled and built families there. However, at that time, mainstream American society excluded the Chinese, and the descendants of the Chinese people were rarely welcomed to study at public schools, therefore, the educational needs of school-age children could only be solved within the Chinese community. In the second half of the 19th century, early Chinese schools appeared in the western United States, such as Central Chinese High School in America in San Francisco and Mun Lun School in Hawaii.

In the mid-20th century, new foreign residents, especially immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, came to the United States, and a new group of Chinese schools sprang up, with courses mainly in traditional Chinese.

In the 1980s, under the background of China's reform and reopening, the number of overseas students and immigrants living abroad increased significantly. The number of Chinese people in American society has also increased rapidly, and a number of Chinese schools teaching simplified Chinese have sprung up after the 1990s.

Entering the 21st century, with China’s economic boom and the increase in business and academic exchanges between China and the United States, the popularity of Chinese language learning took off in various parts of the United States. Chinese schools have entered a period of rapid development, with the increase in the number of students and a rich variety of activities. Chinese events are becoming popular.

Every weekend, Chinese schools in various cities in the United States will have Chinese gatherings to exchange information, connect feelings and carry out cultural and sports activities. More importantly, their children really begin to get to grips with their culture at these gatherings.

That said, before the outbreak of the pandemic, Chinese schools in the United States were flourishing.

Handmade activities at Ohio Contemporary Chinese School. Credit: the interviewee, Xiaopeng Ni.


What is the current status of the development of Chinese schools in the United States? In the midst of the pandemic aftermath, what difficulties are you facing? And how do you intend to break through these difficulties to achieve transformation and development?

In recent years, affected by factors such as changes in Sino-US relations, the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, and the rise of online education, the development of Chinese schools in the United States have entered a challenging period, mainly facing five challenges.

Firstly, the number of enrollments in Chinese schools in various places - have declined. With the increasing abundance of online resources and the advent of commercial online teaching competition, Chinese schools have faced a decline in the number of courses selected per capita.

Secondly, the format of the courses are difficult to adjust, as the online and in-person dual-track teaching can be difficult. In order to meet the different needs of parents, many Chinese schools have adopted a combination of online and in person teaching. However, most Chinese schools have not yet formed a proven method for this way of learning, therefore the quality in teaching has deteriorated.

Thirdly, it is difficult to carry out community-based activities. Chinese schools undertake the important task of building a Chinese cultural community, many festivals, exhibitions and cultural activities are organised by Chinese schools. However, with a decrease in school funding, the effectiveness of community activities and the enthusiasm of volunteers have been greatly reduced.

Fourthly, the deterioration of the living environment of Chinese people has affected the operation of Chinese schools. In recent years, there have been frequent incidents of racial discrimination against Asians in the United States, some of the Chinese schools have suffered a lot in terms of renting venues and conducting activities.

Fifth, the lack of humanistic education. Nowadays, there are still deficiencies in the curriculum and teaching of Chinese American history, identity, and mental health in Chinese schools.

A teacher at Ding Hao Chinese School in Philadelphia uses pictograms to teach children how to recognise Chinese characters. Credit: China News Agency, Pan Liao.

The pandemic and the current situation have brought unprecedented challenges to Chinese schools, and also provided a direction for their transformation and growth.

First of all, Chinese schools should utilise co-construction and the sharing of resources as soon as possible. Facing the competition of commercial online education, Chinese schools should increase their own strength and reduce operating costs. If we can build and share teaching plans, coursework and syllabuses together, it will prove mutually beneficial for all.

What’s more, Chinese schools need to redefine teacher skills and training. The survey found that principles and teachers have general needs for online teaching, online and in-person interaction, and digital transformation. Therefore, it is very important to provide teachers with training and teaching support through technical means, making online and in person teaching compatible, and jointly promote students' learning experiences and community activities.

Last but not the least, the goals of Chinese education should be expanded. At present, Chinese schools can no longer be satisfied with writing and language teaching. On the one hand, the content of the course should not only include the history of civilisation of the Chinese nation, but also the hard work and experiences of local Chinese immigrants. Focusing more on psychology, identity confusion and struggle, and carry out curriculum based on the new generation of Chinese teenagers.

September 2020, under the influence of the COVID-19 epidemic, a teacher from a public Chinese school in Oakland, California, USA taught students online. Credit: China News Agency, Guanguan Liu.


As an important place for the new generation of Chinese people to receive education, how should Chinese schools help and guide Chinese youth to integrate into the local society?

A Chinese school is not a walled campus, but a bridge connecting the Chinese community and a diverse society. This is something that public schools cannot do, and it is also a responsibility that commercial online education cannot undertake.

Chinese schools are community-based schools, helping new generations of Chinese Americans to connect with their ancestral culture and with local American schools and communities. During the teaching process, Chinese schools emphasise community building, and allows Chinese youth to feel the influence of Chinese language and culture during the teaching process.

Chinese schools do not want the children who study there to deviate from the mainstream, but to help them integrate into the mainstream society better, and show their own characteristics at the same time, giving them significant imperative for multicultural integration.

American Chinese School Summer Camp. Credit: China News Agency, Pan Liao.

In the past, Chinese schools were established to provide children with an opportunity for language inheritance, cultural experience and community cohesion. Now these concepts have been fully realised and put into practise. Currently, Chinese schools must focus on helping children improve their adaptability and influence in a diverse society.

From the perspective of educational goals, Chinese schools should shift from the goal of inheriting Chinese and maintaining Chinese people’s mother tongue to enhancing the influence of Chinese culture. For example, the leadership courses and Chinese history education offered by many schools are aimed at making Chinese children take advantage of Chinese culture and become more successful and confident in mainstream society in the future.

In terms of teaching activities, Chinese schools need to apply what they have learned, encourage school-leavers to carry out research in the community, or design projects and activities to further serve the community. The Chinese school will organise school trips to the community centre for exhibitions during the Spring Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival to learn more about Chinese language and Chinese culture. These activities are the first steps to introducing Chinese teenagers to the role of cultural ambassador, which not only enhances their national pride, but also enriches local multiculturalism.

American Chinese School hosts cultural events in the community. Credit: the interviewee, Xiaopeng Ni.


What role did non-profit organisations such as the CSAUS play in the development of Chinese education in the United States? How to further enhance the enthusiasm of these organisations and promote the better development of overseas Chinese schools?

Non-profit organisations play an indispensable role in the development of Chinese schools and the Chinese community. Most of the volunteers in these organisations have full-time jobs, and they spend their spare time doing cultural inheritance and promotion.

In order to keep volunteer for non-profit organisations engaged and enthusiastic, two things are very important.

One is vision building. Everyone needs to understand and agree with the original intention of the association, which is to promote Chinese language and cultural education, and to promote the growth and development of Chinese descendants. Non-profit organisations do not have top-to-bottom binding force, but the power of vision is great, and it can bring out everyone's abilities and hard work.

The second is to create a good environment through organisational system and cultural construction. The rules and regulations of the CSAUS determine the operating norms of the association, and when there are violations, they can be restrained by the organisational system.  

As a bottom-up community-based, elected non-profit organisation, the most important thing is to establish a contract that everyone can abide by and commit to together, forming a power of belief. Then establish a flexible work plan to adapt to changing times and actual situations. When everyone works together happily, a team can become more inclusive.


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