China’s first compulsory school course of TCM met with doubt from parents, teachers

The fall semester is somewhat different this year for Yang Jun, a science teacher in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

On August 9, shortly before the start of the new semester, his school, the Xiaoshang Yipeng Third Elementary School, received a notice from the provincial department of education and the provincial administration of traditional Chinese medicine, informing them of a new mandatory training for a new course in the elementary curriculum.

“Traditional Chinese Medicine and Wellness (TCMW),” as it is called, suggesting that this new course be offered in grade 5, one class hour per week, to be taught by science teachers.

As a science teacher, Yang feels uncomfortable taking on such a task. He believes that science teachers are not a good fit for teaching TCM. Yang also pointed out that, though having a lot in common with science, TCM and science are simply not the same.

In fact, many TCM beliefs directly contradict proven scientific theories. “For instance,” Yang observed, “some TCM experts claim that humans may invigorate their organs by ingesting respective animals organs. ‘A kidney for a kidney,’ for example, which means eating an animal kidney nourishes one’s own. How ridiculous does that sound to the science teachers!”

Yang is not alone in feeling unsure about his newly assigned role as a TCM teacher. Shi Youhe, Director of Teaching and Researching at Lin’an Chenxi Elementary School, shares Yang’s concern. On August 24, a week before the new semester began, Shi attended training.

“I should at least have some basic TCM knowledge myself before I can motivate my students to learn. However, till this point, I have not even had complete faith in TCM myself. I believe that the first step is to make myself interested in this subject, but unfortunately, the training only lasted one day.”

Shi expressed his disappointment but said he would nonetheless faithfully perform the tasks.

Read, think, learn, practice

Shi shared an example of his frustration. There are nine chapters in the textbook TCMW, which is the equivalent of 36 class hours. Each class hour consists of four modules: “Read,” “Think,” “Learn” and “Practice.”

Every lesson begins with a well-known story from ancient China, followed by a learning point and then an extended practice session. For example, Lesson 1, “Shennong (an ancient Chinese chief known as Yandi) Discovering Curative Virtues of Plants,” showcases the process of Chinese ancestors discovering herbal medicine.

The story is followed by the introduction of the homologous nature of medicine and food. In the practice module, students are asked to “taste the following foods that have curative properties,” and “decide whether they taste the same as described in the traditional Chinese medical literature.”

Shi was at a loss upon reading this question. Admittedly, introducing TCM theories with stories should be appealing to children. However, without any reference books for the teachers to prepare for the class, their job is made difficult. “Does that mean I will have to buy some Chinese medicine to try for myself?” Shi wondered.

He also feels that the development stage of this course was too rushed. “The textbook is written in a hasty manner. I think they need to realize that a lot of TCM theories that the experts take for granted are difficult for us laymen.” said Shi.

Yang shares his view. He pointed out that the TCM course did not go through an experimental stage like science classes during the curriculum reform. “Having written the textbook doesn’t mean the course is ready to be taught in the classroom. There should be an experimental stage before it is offered to the public. They should have picked at least one school for a test run.”

The “curriculum reform” Yang referred to is the National Science Curriculum Reform for the Compulsory Elementary Education, which is currently occurring simultaneously with the promotion of the TCM course. The new science curriculum criterion will replace the 2001 version.

According to Liu Enshan, chair of the Revision Committee of Compulsory Education Elementary Science Curriculum Standards, the development of the new curriculum standards took over five years. The early stage involved status quo research, document analysis, International comparison, monographic study, design demonstration and preliminary exploration of teaching strategies.

After the completion of the first draft, several large-scale surveys were carried out targeting eastern and western regions of China, which were then followed by repeated revisions of the draft.

The TCM course does not appear to have any official standard. An official course standard specifies the nature and concept of a discipline, course objectives, course content, as well as implementation recommendations etc. As far as Yang is concerned, before a course is offered to the public there must be a standard, however TCM textbooks seem to be the only thing it offers.

Popular skepticism

Gao Yinming is a mother of a fifth grader. She keeps an open mind and is hopeful that her daughter will learn something new. But Gao knows a parent who is a doctor trained in Western medicine. He is one of those who are against introducing TCM in the classroom.

It is of vital importance to cultivate scientific literacy in our children, but traditional Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine or Miao (one of the ethnic minorities in China) medicine hardly do anything to contribute to it, the doctor said.

In fact, for a long time, TCM’s scientific quality and value system have been subject to controversy. One parent from Shaoxing is openly opposing teaching children TCM at school. He is concerned that this course may cause a discrepancy between what is taught in class and what is learned at home.

This concern is shared by many other parents as well as science teachers, such as Yang, who wonders what to do when a TCM course contradicts science.

Parents like Gao who are more supportive on this matter also have their concerns. TCM teachers, they say, have only attended temporary training. Being amateurs themselves, are they really suitable to teach?

Moreover, TMC as an area of study is extensive and profound. Though the TCM course aims only to touch upon the basics, it can be misleading to children, as their comprehensive and interpretive abilities are not fully developed yet.

Thirdly, some TCM theories tend to be ambiguous or vague. While adults may form a correct understanding, children tend to take things literally. As someone suggested online, “why not offer children a first-aid course or sex education instead of TCMW?”

Fang Jianqiao, President of Zhejiang Chinese Medical University (ZCMU), believes that elementary school students are not old enough yet to take any of these courses, including and especially sex education. Fang explained that because children are naturally inquisitive, with easy access to information nowadays, introducing these concepts too early might encourage them to try it themselves..

The goal

On April 8, Zhejiang Province released the first series of elementary school TCM textbooks in the country. Xu Weiwei, director of Zhejiang administration of TCM, has been envisioning this day for over two years.

He believes that to popularize TCM, it is important to promote wider acceptance of TCM among the next generation. To accept something, Xu explains, the first step is to get to know it.

In 2016, Xu officially submitted a project proposal to the provincial department of education, along with a funding request to the department of finance. His proposal was met with enthusiasm.

Zhejiang department of finance sponsors this project with an annual fund of 5-6 million yuan.

Xu ascribed the successful approval of the project to the rich TCM culture in Zhejiang. The province had 94 State-owned TCM hospitals as of 2015, generating an annual number of TCM hospital visits that ranks first in the country.

In January 2016, the idea of introducing TCM to children at school was brought up and discussed at the National People’s Congress.

On February 26, the State Council released a national “Strategic Plan for the Development of Traditional Chinese Medicine (2016-2030). In October 2015, Tu Youyou, Chinese pharmaceutical chemist and educator, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering artemisinin in qinghao (wormwood herb), proving the efficacy of TCM and boosting national enthusiasm to it. Xu believes that all those above have contributed to the birth of this project.

This project does not lack in supporters. Zhao Min, professor of Hubei University of Chinese Medicine, believes that TCM is an important part of Chinese culture, “teaching our youth TCM helps to boost their national confidence and cultural pride.”

In response to parents’ concerns on the obscurity of TCM and the feasibility of the project, Xu explained, “this course does not aim to teach methods of treatment, but rather a way of life. It aims to promote TCM philosophy, to show our children that man is an integral part of nature.”

To address some of the teachers’ concerns about their competence to teach this course, Xu said local TCM practitioners will be sent for the training of teachers.

Source: Global Times

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