Institute for Education Research in Western China

SNNU July 2019

I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last two and a half weeks at Shaanxi Normal University* (SNNU), Xi’an, Shaanxi, China. Xi’an* is the largest city in Northwest China and one of the oldest cities in China.  It was the capital for 13 Dynasties and often regarded as part of the cradle of modern China. Xi’an is perhaps most renowned for its role as the capital of the influential Qin dynasty and the Terracotta Army.  It’s location in northwest China, excellent infrastructure and institutions make Xi’an an excellent base for research in rural China.

This was my second research trip western China. Last year I was fortunate to be an invited Keynote at Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou, Gansu, for the International Conference on Rural Education Development in the New Era. Here I outlined ‘Rural Education: Pasts, Presents and Futures’.

A well ranked university in China focusing on teacher training, especially for rural regions, SNNU is stepping up their rural related educational research.  They have recently established the Institute for Education Research in Western China, charged with enhancing education in western (rural) China, and have an exciting research plan for the coming years. I’m honored to be appointed an Adjunct Professor to this institute and help develop the research plan.  In order to help achieve its vision the Faculty of Education has recently recruited a number of exciting ‘new’ and ‘young’ staff members to collaborate on this broad work.  Rural education is indeed the focus, and more exciting the team here are on the same page as me regarding issues regarding the representation of the rural, rural knowledge, place sensitive methodologies and curriculum issues. Furthermore, the institute will also engage with rural teacher education research in neighboring countries.

Rural China is an exciting research site due to the range of issues unfolding right now. Indeed, we can look at modernity and its implications for rurality in real time unfolding, and consequently better understand these processes.  Geographically China has a similar scale and population distribution to Australia (with the obvious exception of population 1.3bn v 26 Million) making it an interesting comparison. Given the cultural and historical differences between our nations we have the opportunity to start to better understand the process of rurality both within, and distinct from, the cultural contexts in which we typically observe it.  An exciting opportunity.  I won’t go into the range of issues and challenges facing education, and communities, in rural China here. Instead I’ll merely reference an introduction to rural education in China as part of special edition on the same topic I published last year with Emily Hannum from the University of Pennsylvania.  All I’ll say here is this is an exciting and fascinating research site, with a big dose of real significance added – millions of people’s lives are impacted in this work. 

Finally, It’s such a pleasure to spend quality time in a nation with such a long and rich history. I’m constantly amased at how little ‘we’ generally know about China and its history (in Australia).  This is a bit bemusing given the history between our nations for centuries, itself pre-dating ‘modern’ Australia. While we know northern China was one of the cradles of civilization, as I wandered the Shaanxi History Museum* I was struck by the pottery, Craft work, Frescos and so forth of comparable date and quality to those studied more typically here in Australia. Then visiting the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda* and the Terracotta Warriors* I was further struck by just how old and powerful a civilization this is – these sites are truly awe inspiring.  Consequently, it’s terribly sad to read the perspectives put forward in some contemporary political, and ‘news’, commentary: I have nothing but positive things to say about the people I’ve met on my travels, including the passersby, shopkeepers and so forth. 

I’m looking forward to long term collaborative relationship and the comparative projects we have developed, and started to roll out, both at SNNU and with other colleagues in China.  I look forward to reporting them here in the near future… 

*I’ve used Wikipedia links for simplicity, as some of the original websites default to Chinese, I encourage readers to link through to the relevant sites in China and choose the English function.