What animals should a zoo have?” Chen Kun, famous Chinese actor and newly appointed United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ambassador for China, asked a classroom full of children.
“Stegosauruses!” one boy shouted, with his arms carefully folded on his desk.
“Anything else?” Chen continued.
“Elephants!” “Oxen!” declared other students as various animal names echoed through the classroom.
“Any other animal?”
“Stegosauruses!” repeated the first boy even louder, evoking laughter from his classmates.
That day in December 2012, Chen drew a zoo on the blackboard in Nayong County of southwestern China’s Guizhou Province, something none of the students had ever seen in person.
Nayong is recognized as one of China’s national-level poverty-stricken counties, and the school is among 50 participants in the “Child-Friendly School” program jointly sponsored by UNICEF and the Chinese Ministry of Education. Parents of a third of the students work in cities far from their hometown.
The Child-Friendly School program promotes equal schooling opportunity for both boys and girls while aiming to create a pleasant, safe, and friendly scholastic environment where students can learn to tackle problems in daily life and share their feelings about the absence of their parents. The program also inspires curiosity and critical thinking by encouraging students to ask questions and solve problems.
In addition to Nayong County, Child-Friendly Schools can also be found in Guangxi’s Sanjiang County, Chongqing’s Zhongxian County, Yunnan’s Jianzhou County, and Xinjiang’s Shule County. Many children in those areas live with their less-educated grandparents who are unable to help them with homework. Some children bounce from relative to relative living in a variety of places, so they frequently switch schools. Against this backdrop, the Child-Friendly School program also endeavors to help such students achieve better academic performance while offering supplementary psychological support for the so-called “left-behind children.”