Wednesday, April 27, 2005

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Shanghai preschool campuses come in several flavors, which I've distilled into three basic categories: ancient, old, and modern. The ancient ones I estimate are over 40 years old, dark and gloomy, and probably converted from other uses. They usually have creaky wooden floors, and cast-iron railings painted bright colors. Take Xiao Bai Ling, the school I went to today: it's three floors tall, with a large open space in the middle so that when you walk inside the building you can see up to the top floor (this is actually a feature found in some modern schools, like Meizhi'er); or a school that I went to for a demo class with Trina a couple months ago, that had been converted from an old natatorium: the sandbox was a filled in swimming-pool, and the floor of the activity hall was sunk five or six feet into the ground, in a half-filled-in pool. The ancient schools hold a certain charm for me.

Old schools were probably built in the seventies or early eighties, after China came out of the tumultuous Cultural Revolution: the outsides are covered in white or grey tile, many are have been fixed up in recent years, insulation is minimal, and the colorful decorations that are intended to delight the little ones can't hide the utilitarian and unimaginative design of the school buildings, and the bare-bones facilities therein. These schools are generally well-established and have good reputations. Examples of old schools are Meizhi'er, Longtan and Shili.

Modern schools are ones built in the past ten years, during Shanghai's recent economic boom. Typically, they are housed in buildings designed specifically for them by housing developments looking to attract a famous private school to set up a branch in their gated community. A common feature of these schools is that they aren't using all of the classrooms in their preschool because they either haven't recruited enough students from their still-low-occupancy neighborhoods, or because the designers went building schools that went above and beyond the requirements of a simple preschool. These schools also tend to have activity halls, physical education rooms and facilities, art rooms, dance rooms, piano rooms... they are simply too big! Modern schools tend to be located in new suburbs of Shanghai. Examples of modern schools are Xinshidai Huayuan and Hailida.

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