GREG BARTLETT, assistant superintendent of Brunswick schools, stands by a table full of swag he received during a recent trip to China as the town’s educational ambasssador. “It was a thrilling experience,” Bartlett said. “My impression of the country has changed a bit. They want to learn from us, but they have no intention of coming in second” with regard to global educational standards.

GREG BARTLETT, assistant superintendent of Brunswick schools, stands by a table full of swag he received during a recent trip to China as the town’s educational ambasssador. “It was a thrilling experience,” Bartlett said. “My impression of the country has changed a bit. They want to learn from us, but they have no intention of coming in second” with regard to global educational standards.

BRUNSWICK

Talk about a culture shock.

Maybe it was the flashing billboard, alternating its message in Mandarin and English, greeting him at Hanzhou High School No. 14: “Welcome Mr. Greg Bartlett, Assistant School Superintendent, Brunswick, Maine, USA,” or a second sign bearing the same message at Jinhua High School No. 1.

Or maybe it was that people stopped him on the street because he is American and therefore a celebrity of sorts, then afforded him an extra level of respect when they learned he is an educator, too.

Might even have been learning that there are two large, elaborate libraries in Hanzhou High School No. 14, one for students and the other for the teachers “because they have to do research so that they might be better instructors,” he was told — or that such extravagance in high-ranking Chinese schools is the norm, rather than a wild exception.

Whatever it was, Bartlett said, once he landed in Zheijang province two weeks ago, it was immediately apparent that China’s approach to education differs wildly from that of the United States. He spent eight days touring several provincial regions as an ambassador where Brunswick is cultivating cultural and educational exchange programs. Additionally, he was the guest of honor at numerous banquets and tours.

“It was a thrilling experience,” Bartlett said. “My impression of the country has changed a bit. They want to learn from us, but they have no intention of coming in second” with regard to global educational standards.

But why New England?

“Because we’re the oldest region in the country, we’ve had public education the longest, and they figure that’s the place to start,” Bartlett said.

There are huge differences in ideology, however.

Numeric rank in China is everything. All caste positions within the students’ rank is based on numeric value and test scores, Bartlett said, which at first seem to contradict with the current American trend away from testing and toward a more holistic, experientially based educational model.

Second, because the schools are government-run, the more prestigious institutions more closely resemble college universities than secondary schools: Opulent architecture highlights large, modern buildings and vast, sprawling campuses.

The Chinese approach education with a militaristic precision and zeal: Recalling a particular middle school where the students greeted him with lock-step precision, the display was both impressive and more than a little disturbing.

Brunswick High School already has one sister school agreement with Jinhua High School No. 1. While abroad, Bartlett signed another agreement with Hangzhou High School No. 14, and an agreement with a middle school is pending.

Bartlett will present a recap of his trip during the School Board’s Dec. 11 meeting.


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