Students and teachers participate in an activity encouraging creative thinking by placing eggs on a structure of sticks, at Tianjin Foreign Languages School. The high school tries to produce well-rounded graduates using an international curriculum.
Tianjin shifts priority from linguistic studies to encouraging creative and innovative thinking.
Foreign language schools are shifting their mission from cultivating language expertise to preparing well-rounded students, versed in foreign languages and culture.
Tianjin Foreign Languages School, launched in 1964 as one of the first batch of foreign language schools under the supervision of then premier Zhou Enlai, is focusing more on the comprehensive skills of students than the mastery of languages alone, in an attempt to foster greater expertise and the development of open and tolerant mindsets.
"Proficiency in languages is no longer sufficient to prepare students for the competitive global market," said Diao Yajun, principal of Tianjin Foreign Languages School, a high school that has 2,100 students in six grades.
"It's more important to boost creative and innovative thinking, so that students can better adapt to the global community whatever their future major and career is."
As one of the nation's first seven foreign language schools, it has cultivated student talent in the field of diplomacy since its establishment.
Many former students now work with national senior leaders on matters of diplomacy, and others are senior ambassadors.
With the advantage of foreign languages and external exchanges, the school has sent groups of students and teachers abroad on academic and cultural exchanges, including to schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and New Zealand.
It also receives teaching staff and students from overseas every year.
According to Diao, China's foreign language schools used to prioritize the teaching of English, and students were proud to be "walking dictionaries".
However, as more students went abroad for college after graduation, it was found that mere mastery of the language was far from enough to cope with the challenges of a foreign culture and society, she said.
Forty-nine of the school's students were accepted by overseas universities and colleges in 2012 and 35 in 2013.
Diao said she expected the number would keep increasing in the coming years.
But she stressed the need to develop skills beyond the ability to speak a language with confidence.
In response, the school came up with an international curriculum and various activities to help the students better adapt to foreign culture.
"We introduced advanced placement courses for some senior high students last year, to prepare the students for overseas study," Diao said.
The Advanced Placement Program provides high school students with the opportunity to take college-level courses in a high school setting, including calculus, statistics, macroeconomics and politics.
Students who participate in the program will not only gain college-level skills, but also earn college credits.
Only four high schools in Tianjin are offering such courses.
"The courses further tap the potential of students, who gradually find where their interests may lie during the courses, be they in politics, finance or physics, and study it further abroad," she said.
Fifty-one students in the school's three senior grades, which have around 240 students each, are currently taking the Advanced Placement Program courses.
Gao Yuan, deputy head of the APP program, said she believed more students would join.
"Some of the students have received invitations from universities abroad, including the University of Chicago, considering their excellence in the APP exams," she said. "Some are also applying for world-class universities, including Columbia University and the University of California."
Students from the foreign language school can pick various fields for further study after graduation, including engineering, politics, physics and biology.
Diao said the school also provides extracurricular courses in various languages, including Japanese, Spanish, German and French, which students can take after school.
Many students developed a strong interest in Spanish culture or Japanese customs after these courses, and then went to those countries for college.
In addition, after-school activities including a model United Nations, debating clubs and speech contests have also enriched students' extracurricular life and provide them with a stage to present and hone their talent.