Second chance

Updated: 2014-01-08 07:09

By Sun Yuanqing (China Daily)

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For students who don't shine in their university entrance examinations, vocational schools offer alternative paths to success. Sun Yuanqing visits one institution in Guizhou.

Chen Yu thought his future was bleak when his low score in the university entrance exam failed to get him into a prestigious college.

Now, one year after he began studying at Guizhou Forerunner College, an institute for vocational education in Guizhou province in southwestern China, the hotel management student is again full of ambition.

"I have been continuously inspired by the volunteer teachers. They revealed to me a whole new world of possibilities," says Chen.

Vocational education is being increasingly emphasized amid the industry upgrade in China. International volunteers with professional backgrounds and varied life experience are playing an important role in the process.

Yang Shaoxian, vice-chancellor of GFC, says that as a less-developed inland province, Guizhou is pushing to develop service and manufacturing industries.

"We hope vocational education will offer a bachelor's degree in the future, which means that vocational education will be valued just as much as university education," Yang says.

Founded in 2011 by Wang Xuehong, president of HTC Corporation, the college is a nonprofit school mainly targeted at students from poor families in Guizhou. The college currently offers vocational higher education in areas, including hotel management, IT and Internet marketing. Among the more than 140 teachers in the school, 25 are international volunteers. More than 200 international volunteers have served in the school so far.

As the school is located in a remote area, the first few foreign volunteers used to stop traffic when they were on the streets. The students, too, were very shy and reserved.

"For the first two weeks, I thought this was going to be a long year. I really did," says Chaley Ayers, a former high school teacher of graphic design and photography in the United States. "The students were very shy, and they were kind of afraid of you at first. We were not connecting, and their English level was low."

But Ayers soon had a breakthrough in an English class where the hotel management students successfully played out a reception scenario.

"You just have to find some kind of hook - these kids can be wonderful. They are so enthusiastic and lovely. They have a lot in their brains. It's just they haven't had experiences like communicating with a customer," Ayers says.

Gong Haijun, a computer-science student, recalls how Ayers surprised him by bringing him a MacBook from the US after she learned that Gong developed an on line social network for the college without a laptop.

"Chaley later suggested that she could help me if I want to pursue further studies in the US, which I didn't even dare to think about before," says Gong.

Lacey Weddel has been teaching English in the college for one year. A Spanish major who has always wanted to help people in poverty, she regularly visits her students on holidays. On her last trip to a student's home in the mountains, she got lice and had to cut off her cherished long hair.

"She couldn't help crying when I was cutting it for her. But she never told anyone about it because she didn't want her students to feel sorry about it," says Xiao Weiwei, coordinator at the volunteer center in GFC, as Weddel plans another trip to a student's home on the weekend.

To prepare students for careers, the school works closely with companies like Marriott International, which send senior executives to offer training, internships and work opportunities.

Ng Siaw Shua, a Malaysian who has worked in finance, IT and consulting in the UK for decades, came to help start a new commercial college for the school.

"The school is offering such good visions for the kids, "Ng says, adding that he's eager to help young people who want to start their own businesses.

The school now has about 1,200 students. Generally students who score high enough on the exam for the key universities won't apply for a vocational college, but GFC has even managed to attract some of these students by providing subsidies up to 10,000 yuan ($1,700) a year.

"It's still very hard for vocational colleges to compete with universities as they have been expanding," says Yang, the vice-chancellor.

But the volunteers remain optimistic as they continue to discover the students' potential.

"Now there is a ceiling in the career of these students. But this is only the beginning of an evolutionary process," says Ayers.

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Second chance

Chaley Ayers, a volunteer teacher from the United States, poses with her students at Guizhou Forerunner College, an institute for vocational education in Guizhou province. Provided to China Daily


Second chance

A student learns about ethnic Miao embroidery during a handicraft class at Guizhou Forerunner College. Zhao Kai / for China Daily

(China Daily 01/08/2014 page20)