‘Based on learners’ needs in internationalization, the region needs to: • integrate resources from both within and outside the region; • research and develop interactive information network platform; • design internationalized courses for management, teachers, students and people in the community; • cultivate the educators’ and learners’ international perspectives, understanding, leadership and communication skills; • create a learning community which can handle the complex situations in globalization, including both opportunities and changes, with an aim of the realization of internationalization in the region.’
Education Committee of Chaoyang District, 2014
Beijing Academy is undertaking an educational reform experiment over a period of ten years. Based around two campuses (East Dong Ba Campus and West Xi Ba He Campus), the Academy includes provision for junior high, middle school and international students through an innovative curriculum underpinned by an ambitious education philosophy – to embrace worldwide culture within the spirit of Beijing – which is intended to support internationalization in the region of Chaoyang.
The Academy opened the doors of its West Campus in September 2013 and is currently embarked on a small-scale experimental phase as part of middle school education reform. From September 2016 to August 2020, a further, more comprehensive experimental phase will see the junior and senior high schools and the international school in operation in the East campus. Ultimately, the capacity of the school will reach 132 classes.
“We are insisting on an approach which involves open campuses and teaching in multiple dimensions, providing a platform for educational experiment and reform which cultivates modern citizens.”
Ren Weidong, Deputy Principal, Beijing Academy
At the heart of the Beijing Academy approach is the adoption of a blended learning model whereby students design their own study plan. Leaders have grappled with a number of questions related to this, for example, what different kinds of resources do we need to support implementation? And, how do we evaluate personalized learning? The team have been looking at and learning from exemplars from around the world, taking both context and culture into account as they develop their implementation model.
There are four explicit phases to the development and implementation of the Beijing Academy, running from September 2013 to August 2023 and beyond. The phased, experimental approach allows for designs to be tested on a small scale, adapted based on experience, and then applied more widely as appropriate.
The aim of the first, small-scale experimental phase is to provide a balanced education for middle school students that supports their ‘all-rounded’ development. There are two key dimensions in what the team are describing as a ‘One Body with Two Wings’ model: the development of ‘innovative spirit’ (humanity, technology skills, international perspective, inquiry interests) and ‘practical ability’ (learning, expression, cooperation and problem solving). These key dimensions sit alongside foci on moral integrity, academic excellence, sound mind and body, and refined interests.
The education approach of the Academy emphasizes free space and time, comprehensive knowledge and direct experience, features which are explicitly incorporated to enable students:
- To learn responsibility through flexibility and freedom
With flexibility in space and time, students can learn to make choices, be responsible, and understand how to learn, manage and reflect on their own practice.
- To cultivate interest in comprehensiveness
Interdisciplinary knowledge andthe ubiquitous connection between them, as well as its application, will inspirestudents’ interests in knowledge andlearning.
- To improve ability through practice
The curriculum model ensures that students have a rounded and balanced education experience. It includes both basic (compulsory) and extended (compulsory and elective) courses. Basic courses focus on comprehensive academic development in seven key areas, and extended courses focus on the cultivation of innovative spirit and practical skills. Extended courses are designed to enrich cultural knowledge, broaden horizons and perspectives, inspire curiosity and imagination, accumulate research experience and promote social experience.
Innovative use of time within each school semester allows for flexibility in the duration of different courses. During the small-scale experimental phase there are two semesters each year, with each semester composed of short and long study periods. The long study period lasts for nine weeks and focuses on study in campus, and the short period, two weeks, focuses on initiative activities, integrated practice and social study.
The Academy has identified specific innovative practices to test in the first phase of experimentation. Learner-centred pedagogy and the development of student autonomy and inquiry are major themes, with practices including ‘theme-based teaching’ and ‘Menu-style teaching’ which are enabled through the use of mentors and team teaching approaches. Digital learning platforms have been explicitly designed to encourage and support student autonomy.
Beijing Academy is actively engaged in collaboration and learning at an international level – recognizing that to achieve its radical ambitions it needs to learn from and understand approaches being successfully delivered elsewhere. It is working on 21st Century Educational Models with Oregon University and has invited world renowned experts and scholars from Harvard, Stanford, University of Melbourne and the United Kingdom’s Innovation Unit to form an expert advisory group. The Academy is also investing heavily in professional development of staff, both at home and abroad, through collaboration with China’s first-class universities and international study visits.