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The Growth of Philanthropy in China: From Education to Philanthropy to Philanthropy for Education by Fabrice Jaumont

This post is part of the NORRAG Debates stream on Philanthropy in Education which contributes to the ongoing dialogue to help unpack the questions, issues, and arguments concerning philanthropy in the education sector. In this post, Fabrice Jaumont, a French educator, researcher and author based in New York, reflects on the importance of philanthropy in education following his participation in the conference: “Philanthropy in Childhood Education in China” on 15 January 2019. He particularly refers to his visit experience to Chinese museums and schools which encourage educational philanthropy through creative ways, such as interactive games, parent-child approaches, art and photography. Following his experience, Fabrice Jaumont concludes by asserting how the impressive Chinese philanthropy is a force that will impact education beyond the borders of China.

Around the world, education is one of the largest program areas within the philanthropic sector. In the United States, the Foundation Center indicates that on average, U.S. foundations dedicate over 20 percent of overall grantmaking to education-related purposes annually.[1] This funding supports a multitude of priorities including public school reform, STEM education, parent and family engagement, and college and career readiness. Much more than an American phenomenon, efforts to document transnational trends in educational philanthropy reveal a burgeoning global model. China’s emerging philanthropy sector, which currently totals 7,000 foundations, mirror these developments and offer an interesting perspective on how foundations can play a role in education. The role of Chinese philanthropy can be best assessed through the relationship of foundations with private and public universities, research institutes, museums, cultural centers, schools and continuing education in Asia, and especially in mainland China.

During my first visit to Beijing for Philanthropy in Childhood Education in China, a conference organized by China Global Philanthropy Institute in partnership with NORRAG, I learned that educational philanthropy had shown remarkable growth in China with 2,131 foundations supporting 6,756 educational programs in 2017 and 90% of the funding targeting disadvantaged children.[2] Chinese educational philanthropy has focused on school improvement and the development of specific activities such as sports, health, language learning, and the humanities. Chinese foundations’ funding has helped create new courses, design educational resources, and improve the overall quality of education while complementing the basic services provided by schools. A few foundations have also focused on research and advocacy programs with a view to improving the field of education overall, and raising awareness about the importance of early childhood education and meeting the needs of specific groups such as children in rural settings or migrants.

Beijing’s Children Discovery Museum offers great insight on educational philanthropy. It is an early childhood education project jointly developed by Lao Niu foundation together with China National Children’s Center, and China Philanthropy Research Institute at Beijing Normal University. Lao Niu Foundation is a private foundation engaged in public welfare and philanthropy, which was established in 2004 by Niu Gensheng and his family. By creating this museum in Beijing, and a similar one in Inner Mongolia, Lao Niu Foundation sought to introduce innovative and interactive exploration to Chinese children, through advanced design concepts and practice models commonly found in children’s museums in the United States and Europe, while combining Chinese traditional culture in the model. As the first stand-alone, play-based children’s museum in China, Lao Niu Children’s Discovery Museum lets children use their minds and bodies to observe, practice, and explore interactives and creative play experiences themed to the Chinese zodiac. In its 26,000 square feet, kids from infancy to age seven can explore, discover, improve cooperation and attentiveness – as well as learn how to exercise good judgment through testing, exploring, and problem solving. The museum aims to inspire parent-child interaction, help children understand the diversity of their world, discover their potential, and improve their resilience. Yearly attendance is exceeding expectations – with over 180,000 visitors a year since its opening in 2015

As a researcher on the role of philanthropy in supporting innovation in education, and as a former school director, I was impressed by the museum’s focus on creativity and exploration. More importantly, I was pleased to see how educators, nonprofit actors, foundation officers, business leaders, and researchers, aligned what they were doing with what the changing world is demanding. We need young people who are effective problem solvers, students who know how to apply the knowledge they have to contexts with which they may not be familiar. We need to teach our children the 4 C’s that are Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.[3]  We need to go even further by teaching our children a fifth C: Compassion.[4]

This last point culminated during a visit of an art education project in a school for migrant workers’ children in one of Beijing’s outer rings, Beijing Shijingshan Cement Factory Elementary School, through a program called “Enlightenment of Love”. The project received support from Sun Future Art Education Foundation, founded in 2014 by Ms. Yang Lan, a leading Chinese philanthropist, media proprietor, journalist, and talk show hostess. The Foundation advocates for the use of art education to solve social problems and is committed to helping children and adolescents who lack opportunities to obtain appropriate and quality art education. I was impressed by the teachers’ focus on exploration and innovation through aesthetics and photography, particularly to build identity and encourage love and compassion among their students who predominantly came from disadvantaged families. I attended a class that was working on a unit called “I love home.” The day’s topic, “Love between family members,” focused on the actions of family members to express love. Mrs. Gong, the lead teacher, explained how the different perspectives used in photographic art could help highlight the role played by each other in loving relationships. This was done to help students understand basic distinctions between different scenes and portray typical movements. Mrs. Gong used multimedia to show how a famous Chinese photographer had mastered his art to portray the deep emotional relationship shared by his own parents towards the end of their life. Art education during the class became a platform for emotional education upon which the students, most of whom had had little contact with family members due to their migrant status, could express their emotion. Sun Future Foundation’s goal to address social issues and provide equitable access through art education in China is inspiring. By teaching a child through art, beauty, and love, we can impact a family, a community and even an entire country in a meaningful way.

The future of Chinese philanthropy is bright given the growth of wealth in the country and the emergence of new generations of philanthropists who are understanding and tackling underlying causes hampering greater social welfare, equity, and quality of education, as well as solving the root causes that are still challenges in Chinese society today. These new philanthropists are learning fast while sharing valuable lessons with international philanthropic organizations and building international cooperation networks. In my opinion, Chinese philanthropy is a force that will impact education beyond the borders of China.

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About the author: Fabrice Jaumont, PhD is a French educator, researcher, and author based in New York. He currently serves as Education Attaché for the Embassy of France to the United States, a Program Officer for FACE Foundation in New York, and a Research Fellow at Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris. His research is funded by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Fabrice Jaumont is the author of several books, including Unequal Partners: American Foundations and Higher Education Development in Africa (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2016), and The Bilingual Revolution: The Future of Education is in Two Languages (TBR Books, 2017).

[1] Foundation Center: Key Facts on US Foundations, 2013.

[2] China Global Philanthropy Institute: Step Back for Advancing Exploration and Practices of Chinese Foundations in Childhood Education. Conference presentation. January 15, 2019.

[3] National Education Association. Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society An Educator’s Guide to the “Four Cs”  (retrieved from the internet on February 7, 2019)

[4] Joost Monks. Concluding Remarks of Philanthropy in Childhood Education in China (January 15, 2019)

Imagery to Include:

Photo Credit: Sun Future Foundation

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