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Yinuo Li promotes a personalized learning approach at ETU School
April 11, 2017
China Daily recently profiled Yinuo Li, founder of Beijing-based ETU School, which launched in September. Half a year later, the private school – which features project-based learning for the students and professional development support for the teachers – hopes to partner with public schools that want to recreate its innovative learning model.

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Yinuo Li (LAN, BEI, SVO 05-15), Director for China at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has an additional role: she’s the founder of ETU School, a Beijing-based private institution that embraces an organic learning model.

It’s a deliberate step away from the traditional Chinese school experience, which, Li says, focuses on “rote learning and homogenization” – exam-oriented methods that are in place to prepare students for the national university entrance exam, called the gaokao. 

But she believes that students can achieve the same preparation with a more personalized approach. ETU School’s curriculum includes hands-on projects, “self-awareness” courses (which include goal-setting, reflections on achievements, and establishing consensus for classroom rules), and courses that encourage individual creative expression. The school also provides an immersive bi-lingual experience, with students learning both Chinese and English.

Li was inspired to start the school by a visit to Khan Lab School in Silicon Valley, California, where she was based for a time after being elected Partner at McKinsey. That school’s motto – “Everyone’s a teacher. Everyone’s a student” – resonated with her, she explained to China Daily: “Young people are capable of far more than society currently recognizes." She also took cues from other U.S.-based education innovators like Altschool and High Tech High, both of which heavily feature individualized and project-based learning.

ETU School's opening ceremony took place in September 2016 in Beijing’s Forbidden City, the former imperial palace. For Li, this choice of location was symbolic, representing her aim of turning the school’s students into “truly Chinese, truly global” graduates, with a deep understanding and respect for Chinese history and culture.

Li explains that there are three groups of people building the school: educators, business managers, and IT product managers/engineers. “Good education philosophy and practices are its core, but we run this school as a modern business and mobilize social resources in an effective way via a tech platform that supports online communities," she says.

An app for parents allows them to read teachers’ comments on their child’s performance at school, and to contribute input on their behavior at home – allowing a fuller picture to emerge so that an individualized learning plan can be crafted. 

Li hopes the school's methods can be shared widely with those who cannot afford private tuition. “We hope to reproduce our ecosystem through innovative practices. ETU is open to all partners and expects to be embraced by more schools, so if a public school is willing to cooperate even just in some aspects, we could make it happen via a project or even government procurement process," Li explains.

The school already has a partnership with a public school planned, one based on teacher development and core teaching skills training. There is a larger aim for this, as well – to break down education inequalities that exist between urban and rural schools.

As Li puts it, “We are not only building a school. We hope to innovate in the education ecosystem by putting schools back in the center of communities."

She continues, “We believe that as long as our children are sound in body and mind, acquire core competencies and have the right values and perspectives, they will thrive, or at least qualify by any sensible standard anywhere in the world, even the gaokao."
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