One school in China takes an innovative approach to education.

RDFZ XISHAN in Beijing is the first school in China to participate in a Mac one-to-one program and has transformed learning into a collaborative and engaging experience — without sacrificing test scores.

The inspiration

Traditionally, Chinese education has focused on obtaining core knowledge and undergoing rigorous testing for admission to the best schools. However, pursuing these goals often sacrificed personal growth, creativity and innovation, according to Principal Shu Dajun of the Renda Fuzhong (RDFZ XISHAN) School, a public middle school in Beijing.

In 2010, the Chinese Government released a national plan for education reform, acknowledging that Chinese education is ‘lagging behind’ the needs of the nation, and that the country’s teaching philosophy and methodology are outdated. The Government then challenged local schools to conduct experiments in education reform, declaring that “the destiny of our nation rests on education”.

“Results are not as important as the process. I think the challenge is not the problem, but how to find the solution.”

— Xinran, student,

RDFZ XISHAN stepped up to the challenge. Since its establishment in 1950, RDFZ XISHAN had made tremendous achievements in secondary education. Over the past two decades, the school consistently ranked among the highest in Beijing for entrance rates into higher learning institutions.

Despite this success, the leadership of RDFZ XISHAN believed that they could do even better. In 2010, Principal Shu launched RDFZ XISHAN as an experimental school for seventh, eighth and ninth graders. The school’s goal is to push the boundaries of traditional Chinese education by equipping its students with the skills to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century.

The school collaborated with researchers at Beijing Normal University in designing the program. According to Beijing Normal University Professor Yu Shengquan, the majority of schools in China already use multimedia in their classrooms, but technology is mostly used by teachers to present lectures. When it came to RDFZ XISHAN, it was important to Professor Yu not to use technology simply for technology’s sake. To him, the challenge was implementing technology as a cognitive tool for students and ultimately promoting learning at a higher level.

The implementation

For Principal Shu, the first step was obtaining Apple products for the students and teachers. When RDFZ XISHAN first started introducing computers to the school, Apple was not on the government purchasing list. But Shu felt that Apple was the right partner for the project. “Apple’s creative spirit deeply melds with our teachers’ and students’ educational philosophy,” he says.

RDFZ XISHAN became the first public school in China to participate in a Mac one-to-one program, which provides each student with a MacBook Pro. The teachers use iPad for teaching and iPhone for communicating. And in a new pilot program, the school provides 200 iPad devices for students to use in the classroom.

Across every discipline, teachers and students at RDFZ XISHAN use Apple products to discover new ways to learn. The English language class uses iMovie to shoot and edit newscasts to allow students to practise speaking English aloud. In music class, teachers and students use GarageBand to create music and original scores. In Chinese language class, students use Mac computers to write blog posts and share work and materials on wikis. Students use programs like Keynote to present their work to the class. And teachers have embraced using iBooks Author to create dynamic iPad textbooks, allowing students to engage with rich 3D imagery and audio and video content.

“The students like what they make with Apple products. Their work can express their thoughts and personalities, so they have a lot of fun with their schoolwork.”

— Jin Zhengguo, Mathematics teacher, RDFZ XISHAN

Because everyone — teacher and student — is equipped with Apple devices, the result is a partnership in the learning process that is quite revolutionary for the Chinese educational system. “It’s no longer simply the teacher teaching and students studying,” says Shu. “It’s become equal. Everyone is equal in the creating and sharing of knowledge.” Yu views it as a balance of Eastern and Western teaching philosophies: the Chinese emphasis on the system of knowledge and the Western focus on the student’s development.

Once a month, RDFZ XISHAN hosts an open class, where teachers from other cities come to observe how the school is innovating by using Apple technology in its classrooms.

The results

Since the program started, students, teachers and administrators have seen remarkable results. Based on surveys and qualitative data, RDFZ XISHAN students have shown better independent thinking skills, improved autonomous learning abilities and greater confidence than students not participating in the program.

“We hope to produce the type of students who can make a difference, can be outstanding, can have the desire and the courage to change the world.”

— Shu Dajun, principal,

In the classroom, students are more willing to express themselves, to speak up, to ask questions. And they are completing assignments at a much higher level of complexity compared with the nonexperimental school.

This was all achieved without sacrificing test scores. Students at RDFZ XISHAN have much higher GPAs and better test scores in mathematics and Chinese than those in the nonexperimental programs at RDFZ XISHAN.

Products they use

MacBook Pro

This notebook computer is great for learning both inside and outside the classroom. Learn more about MacBook Pro


This revolutionary mobile device introduces a whole new way of teaching and learning. Learn more about iPad