Alumni efforts foster exciting opportunities for Education students

by Alex Swanson  /   Mar 11, 2015

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China visit by Dean Mary Kalantzis and Professor Bill Cope advances future language program in Champaign and relations with Chinese University of Hong Kong

The College of Education at Illinois has always valued alumni partnerships. Exemplifying that commitment, Dean Mary Kalantzis and Professor Bill Cope traveled to China to connect with two alumni last December.

Kalantzis and Cope also were interested in learning more about a Chinese language program created by longtime donor and supporter of the College Betty Chan, who did doctoral work at Education at Illinois and was awarded an honorary degree of doctor of humane letters in 2010 by the University of Illinois, in recognition of her outstanding work and research in education. Their interest in seeing the Chinese language program as it is used in schools was one of the motivations behind Kalantzis and Cope’s journey.

Chan’s mother, Madam Tsang Chor-hang, founded the first Yew Chung International School (YCIS) in 1932. Chan has since developed YCIS into one of the leading private school systems in Hong Kong and is the director and supervisor of the organization.

While in Shanghai, Kalantzis and Cope observed several YCIS classes. They noted the integration of culture-based lessons and Chan’s successful language program in YCIS, which inspired the College to pilot the pedagogy this summer.

An integrated language/culture class in China focusing on traditions surrounding Chinese tea“We observed a whole range of classes, a whole range of levels of proficiency, and saw active use of the language, including character writing, from this curriculum,” said Kalantzis. “That convinced us this was something we could try in Champaign.”

The pilot summer program calls for collaboration between the College, YCIS, and the Confucius Institute housed within the Education Building.

Allison Witt, director of the Office of International Programs, said that elementary and middle school students will learn basic Chinese characters, practice writing, reading, and pronunciation of Chinese characters, as well as learn Chinese history and culture.

“We are interested in piloting these methods and this curriculum with American children, who are accustomed to American schools and not immersed in Chinese culture,” said Witt. “We’ll study how this curriculum can be adapted or used for this student population.”

A number of students expressed interest in visiting Illinois by the end of Kalantzis and Cope’s visit with YCIS, another indication of the growing relationship between the two institutions.

College of Education at Illinois Dean Mary Kalantzis with alumnus Alvin Leung in ChinaAfter traveling to Hong Kong, Kalantzis and Cope also met extensively with Alvin Leung, M.S. ’82 Ed. Psych., Ph.D. ’88 Ed. Psych. Leung now serves as the head of the Department of Educational Psychology and as dean of education at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

Kalantzis and Cope’s meetings with CUHK faculty should work toward solidifying the relationship between the two universities. Currently, faculty members from both institutions are exploring possibilities for student exchange.

“The synergy of the University’s Confucius Institute and strong connections with alumni are providing outstanding opportunities for College of Education students to engage with education practices in China, researchers from the region, and opportunities to travel there,” said Witt.

Chan and Leung have assisted the College in realizing opportunities for students in Urbana-Champaign to learn the Chinese language and experience Chinese culture. Their efforts will continue to enhance Illinois’ international presence.

“We want to offer Chinese language to our kids. We want to offer our students opportunities to go to China,” said Kalantzis, noting the College’s investment in providing superior multicultural education.

“These are not only our distinguished alums,” she said. “They offer opportunities for our students.”

Discover more about the College’s study abroad and student exchange programs, and learn about the College's 2015 Chinese Culture and Language Camp in the Education Building.