Bainian Vocational School in China

Pearson helps families uprooted by earthquake

BN Vocational School
BN Vocational School

Seated in front of a wall adorned with hammers, saws and dozens of other tools, students at the Bainian Vocational School (BNVS) in Beijing listen attentively to tales of life in the real world of plumbing and air conditioning.

“Some bosses are very patient, and will tell you things many times, but some are not: they’ll just tell you one time and expect you to do it,” says Jiang Yuwan, age 19, who is just completing an internship in plumbing at nearby Tsinghua University, where he will soon work full time.

The lesson comes in the final week of the first year at Bainian for 30 students in the plumbing and air conditioning class, just before they too begin an internship for their second year at the extraordinary school that provides hope – and practical training – to the children of economic migrants in China.

Jiang Yuwan talks to Bainiah students about internshipsJiang Yuwan talks to Bainian students about internships

When an earthquake devastated Sichuan Province in southwestern China in 2008, Pearson staff in China and around the world helped raise more than $300,000 to help establish a new Bainian school in the city of Chengdu, to house and train 100 young people whose lives had been shattered by the natural disaster or poverty.

It was the second of six Bainian schools and the first to provide boarding and three meals a day to students – many of them separated from their parents who moved elsewhere for work after being driven from their homes.

‘The Pearson Project’

“When the money arrived we called it ‘The Pearson Project,’” says Bainian founder Yao Li. “The fact that the money came from Pearson employees, not just the company, is very touching, very special.”

A second donation from Pearson in 2010, of more than $75,000, was used to help students with health problems at Bainian schools.

“Some of the students who move from the mountainous area to the city face adjustment problems, including health problems caused by pollution,” says Ms. Yao. “One student had ear problems and needed surgery.”

Pearson last year also donated Longman dictionaries, Dorling Kindersley books in Chinese and English-language Penguin Readers to support the library in Chengdu, and plans are afoot for Pearson to provide books to all six Bainian school libraries.

China’s explosive economic growth has resulted in many rural families migrating to big cities for jobs in manufacturing, construction and other sectors, so Bainian was established in 2005 to provide marketable skills to some of the children following their parents. Bainian students are generally in their late teens or early 20s, and many of them are from families below the poverty line, a level which varies by city and region in China.

Over the past six years, more than 1,200 students have attended Bainian’s two-year programme, focusing in one of four areas: electricity, plumbing and air conditioning, pastry baking, and hotel service including cleaning and waiting on tables. Bainian works with companies to find internships during the second year, with the aim of full-time employment at those companies once the internship is completed.

Schools provide real-world setting for training

Jiang Yuwan
Jiang Yuwan

The set-up at the schools is designed to provide real-world experience. At the Beijing school, for example, the women’s lavatory looks like a hotel-room bathroom – with a single toilet, an oval-shaped bathtub and a chest of drawers – while the men’s room bathroom looks like a restaurant’s, with several stalls and urinals, so hotel service students are familiar with both types of facilities. One of the classrooms is equipped with a desktop computer, a printer and other office equipment to resemble a hotel back office.

Besides the Beijing and Chengdu sites, the other Bainian schools are in Nanjing, Wuhan, Sanya and Zhengzhou.

Typical of Bainian students is air conditioning student Pei Weixi, 20, who moved with his mother to Beijing last year while his father stayed at home in the town of Tianshui in Gansu Province in northwest China. “Air conditioning is very new to me, and there’s a lot of potential in this area,” says Weixi, who is just beginning his internship in after-sales service at an air conditioning manufacturing company.

Pastry-making student Yang Yuhua, 19, moved to Beijing from Hebei, in northern China. Her father works at a construction site, her mother at a supermarket. Her internship is at a hotel that’s part of the Intercontinental Group, so she’s learned to make brownies, carrot cake and other pastries popular among western tourists.

Internship will ‘open my eyes’

Bainian students left to right: Pei Weixi, Du Yu, Yang Yuhua, Huang Xiaohong

“Working at the hotel will open my eyes,” says Yuhua. “I’ll meet different people and it will be good for my future.”

Huang Xiaohong, 19, followed her father to Beijing where he works on a construction site, while her mother stayed at home on their farm in Sichuan. A student in the service class, Xiaohong speaks some English, and looks forward to her internship at a Holiday Inn “because I’ll be able to use English a lot.”

All Bainian students study English for at least an hour a day, and some members of Pearson’s China staff volunteer their time to help the students practice their English.

“The volunteers communicate with the students through text message, and meet them every month or two months,” says Mrs. Yao. “That’s a big commitment over two years.”