In the competitive world of China's education, Chinese students spend their days-and their evenings-studying and doing homework. Weekends are often devoted to extra tasks, from participating in the math Olympics to Chinese essay writing competitions. There is little time devoted to teaching students about civic responsibility. It is no wonder that some scholars and well-intentioned critics, including journalists, political leaders and even Communist Party members, question whether the creation of civil society in China has been sacrificed in the pursuit of economic growth. The Cyrus Tang Foundation has decided to do something about this.
In an innovative pilot program in Shaanxi Province, the CompassionateHeart Scholars Program, the Tang Foundation is working with its partners to create an environment in which middle and high school students can discover that community service is not a burden. It is not a drag on grades. Community service can be not only fun and rewarding, but is also a way to build self esteem, self confidence and a sense of social responsibility.
To implement their program, students in each of 592 junior high and high school classes in two counties in Shaanxi participate in a two-part program. The first part of the program is the election of the CompassionateHeart Scholar. The election process begins when the class nominates three of their classmates in an atmosphere of openness to become a Compassionate Hearts nominee. Students are only told the program's values (or criteria for selection)-devotion to parents; respect teachers and elders; care for others; ready and happy to help; diligent and hardworking; good grades. After a period of open discussion, students then vote for one and only one student from the list of three nominees through a secret ballot vote. The winner becomes the CompassionateHeart Scholar. In a typical school, there are about 30 CompassionateHeart students who become exclusive members of the CompassionateHeart team. Each junior high (high school) scholar is awarded with a 400 (800) yuan "scholarship."