IPSC Winning Speech 2005

Theme: ’Differences and Diversity’

A one-time desk-mate

Coming to London is like coming into a different world. It reminds me of many of my former classmates and the children I am working with.

With the booming of the Chinese economy, many farmers are leaving villages and coming to work in cities. As low-income migrant laborers, they can only afford to send their children to temporary schools that retired teachers and other volunteers have set up for them. Several fellow students and I are now teaching in such a school.

Local news media interviewed us and put our pictures on the front page. Once, a reporter asked me why I wanted to teach migrant children. I pointed at a Confucian adage on the wall, which can be roughly translated: Teach without differences but with diversity. What this ancient sage means is that a good teacher should love pupils whether they are high or low in status; pupils bring diverse experiences to class and may enlighten the teacher. I liked this saying because I don’t like country kids to be seen as different.

I was born in a poor small town in western China, where an average person made less than 100 pounds a year. Going to school was a privilege accessible only to some children. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about my tuition, but as I moved up grade by grade, I saw pupils, especially girls, drop out. At the beginning of every semester, my class would be short of one or two pupils, and I felt very sad about this.

This is what happened to Ah Mei, my one-time desk-mate. One morning, she stopped coming to class, her textbooks still laid neatly on the desk, and her notes were in my schoolbag – I often borrowed them to do my own homework.

After Ah Mei left, I met her a few times, but each time I asked her to return, she avoided my eyes and said, “We are different. Only you can become a scholar.” I didn’t like her saying this, but as time went by, I realized what she said was true. While I was getting ready for college, she was working in the fields. While I was studying in the library, she was preparing for her wedding. Now, I am a second-year college student, and she is a mother.

I feel sorry and even feel guilty for such differences between people, between those who can receive education and those who cannot. I don’t like Ah Mei’s misfortune to be repeated. That was why I decided to help out the migrant children. They deserve the same education as the city children.

Despite our good intentions, however, we volunteers may feel superior about giving to the children we teach. Only by listening to them, by being good pupils ourselves, can we be truly touched and enriched. We also receive from those we give.

In the first class I taught, I was nervous but in high spirits. The kids repeatedly imitated my pronunciation in unison and quickly learned to use a few English words. Then, I told the class: “Good! You are doing just as well as the city kids even though you are different in many ways.”

During the break, a girl approached me and said in a low but clear voice, “Teacher, we don’t want to be seen as different from city kids. We want to be scholars too.”
Her reaction took me by surprise. Yes, I was wrong. It was true that I didn’t like the prejudice against them, but I myself was seeing them as different. The little girl reminded me of my one-time desk-mate Ah Mei and reminded me of other classmates who didn’t make it to college or even to middle school although they were by no means less intelligent.

After that first class, the dreams of these children were gradually engraved on my mind: they want to be scientists, sportsmen, teachers, and all of them want to be kind and honest. Their dreams move me and enrich me. Confucius is right about the diversity pupils bring to class. The children are teaching me how to teach them. Thank you very much.

(From www.esu.org the official ESU website)