Interview with Pioneer Education school principal, Liu Xiao-wei

Liu Xiao-wei taught English at the University of Chengdu for nine years and earned a master’s degree from the University of Virginia.

In 1998, he established the educational ideology of “Good Character, Critical Thinking, Lifelong Learning, Communication, and Collaboration” and began to practice this ideology in his classes.

Upon hearing about his education philosophy, some of his friends asked him to teach their children. This was successful and they started to learn a lot quickly. As this happened, more and more students came to him, and even students who had been expelled from school came to his classes and began to learn.

In 2006, he returned to Chengdu and opened a study room at his home, before opening the Pioneer Education school in 2012.

Could you introduce the school to us?

The Pioneer Education school is an alternative education institute. There are about 50 students and 10 teachers now. Our school is a private alternative school. We believe that the most important part of education is to develop the ability of the students.

We try to focus on “Good Character, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration” when teaching at our school and we like to pursue the values of safety, liberty, responsibility, and acceptance.

What was your motivation for the establishment of the school?

At first, some of my best friends asked me for some advice to help with their children’s’ studies. Then, I started to teach about 20 to 30 children every year in a small study room.

While talking with the students and parents, I learned that the students’ problems arise from the educational environment of the parents, schools, and society.

In particular, there are many problems with the philosophy and teaching methods of parents and teachers. At regular schools, w have a standardized curriculum that doesn’t take into account the individuality and talents of each student.

Because of this, I decided to set up a school to teach “Good Character, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration.” I wanted to create a new educational environment for students that would allow them to choose what they want to study, who they want to study with, and how they study. Our school honors and supports each student’s’ individuality.

What is the difference between your school and a regular school?

Our school curriculum is completely different from that found at regular schools. In China, the same school curriculum is taught at the same time, in the same place and in the same way, and at the end of each year, they test the same thing.

The curriculum of our school is based on the students’ self-interest. At regular schools, the lectures are mainly focused on the teacher. However, the classes in our school are mainly focused on critical thinking and communication.

Also, we encourage the students at our school to pursue their hobbies and we take them on field trips. As well as this, there are lectures on diverse topics that you don’t necessarily learn about at regular schools such as such as East Asian History, Recreation Art, Japanese Archery, and Exchange Diaries.

As a matter of fact, our school curriculum is very diverse. We encourage students to take on self-learning about topics they are interested in. During this time students have studied things such as astronomy, lipids, tidal currents, emotional management, and fashion.

What do talk about with your students?

The students take a central part in the school’s organization. Everyone decides what they want to learn, and who they want to learn with. So the subject of conversations with the students is endless.

From the selection of the curriculum, the school rules, religion, science, social issues, entertainment, Japanese cartoons, to questions like “where do I come from and where can I go?” as well as philosophical events, family issues, and relationship problems, everything is discussed at our school.

These conversations are usually discussed and distributed by our teachers and students.

We think it is important to share stories relating to personal growth between teachers and students. Therefore, “The World and Me” and “Sharing Stories” are two of the most popular courses among our students.

How do you think your educational ideology affects children?

I think that students can become aware of who they are and become independent thinkers. By giving students enough respect and freedom, we enable students to make choices on their own and also take responsibility for their choices.

What has been the most difficult part of running a school so far?

The most difficult thing is that while our educational ideology is relatively stable, many people still don’t have a lot of empathy with our ideas.

Our school is also called China’s ‘School of Economics’ because it gives students a lot of freedom compared to regular schools. Still, many parents worry that if the students are given too much freedom they will not learn as much. They hope to control the students and want them to study under a certain degree of stress.

What has been your proudest moment?

I am most proud when I see the teachers and students of our school eat together, study together, and live together while they grow up. Our schools have many advantages, such as an equality between students and teachers, a safe environment, more educational opportunities, and a better learning atmosphere.

Are there any memorable students?

There are too many, but let me tell you a recent example. Recently, a 16-year-old girl at our school became curious about how students at special schools for misbehaving students learn

In order to find out, we went into one of these schools and spent some time observing the lives of the students. We then published our findings to the world.

The student’s writings attracted many people to the social issues found at this school. We found out that many young students are not as young and as ignorant as their parents think.

In fact, we believe that many students’ thoughts are deeply ingrained and surpass the imaginations of adults.

What is your life goal?

My goal is to help more people grow through learning and by helping them live a happy life.

What is the future direction of your school?

We hope that our School will grow up to be an open learning space for everyone from one to one hundred years old. We want it to be a place where everyone is a teacher and a student.

Any final messages?

Changing our society is never an easy task. But when I begin to change myself, my surroundings will begin to change. Therefore If I begin to improve myself, the world will gradually improve also. Let’s start from now.