Professor Yongxin Zhu
Founder, New Education Initiative (NEI)
Yidan Prize for Education Development
Teacher professional development, Student well-being, Primary and secondary education, Literacy
A collaborative approach that champions personal growth and well-being
Professor Zhu’s work bridges the gap between education theory and practice. The ‘Teacher Growth Model’ keeps educators connected to the latest academic research through reading lists, resources, and online platforms. Teachers are encouraged to read, reflect, write, and share their experiences with each other—building a supportive community and helping rural teachers feel connected and valued. The model fosters leadership skills and helps teachers find fulfilment within their career.
As part of NEI’s program, students, teachers, and parents read and write together. Its program also includes an extended school library, where the student’s wider community can come and learn together. NEI helps parents support learners and promotes a growth mindset, transforming homes into positive learning environments.
NEI’s method boosts student’s motivation with tangible impact on learning outcomes. Research shows that NEI school students performed showed measurable uplift in reading interest, abilities, habits, and the sense of belonging at school.
Over the past two decades, Professor Zhu has made a huge impact on China’s education landscape and beyond, with his books now translated into 28 languages. His 20 plus monographs—such as Future Schools and To Teachers—have been published in over 40 countries and regions. He’s also been named the national “Spokesperson of Reading for All” and won the IBBY-iRead Outstanding Reading Promoter Award in 2020.
“Professor Zhu is successfully addressing some of the most intractable challenges in education: improving equity and inclusiveness. His work encourages an appreciation of the value of learning for personal growth by improving reading, writing and communication. He has succeeded in gradually changing how teachers approach professional development and how students learn in classrooms and at home. Perhaps most importantly, he reminds us of the importance of joy and well-being for every learner.”
Ms Dorothy K. Gordon
Panel Head, Judging Panel for Education Development, Yidan Prize
My warmest congratulations to Professor Yongxin Zhu, the 2022 Yidan Prize Laureate for Educational Development. As founder of New Education Initiative (NEI), Professor Zhu has successfully addressed some of the most intractable challenges faced by educators all over the world as they strive for improved equity and inclusiveness. His work has focused on multi-level systemic reform, empowering students, teachers, and parents to work together while emphasising individual well-being and personal growth. In his words: “the ultimate goal of education is a happy and fulfilled life”.
In 20 years, NEI has grown from a single school to an active network involving over 8,000 schools, more than half a million teachers and 8 million children—many based in remote, rural areas. Thousands of dedicated volunteers and several research institutes back this work, and the organization benefits from a strong governance structure under the New Education Institute.
NEI methods bridge the gap between education theory and practice by continually adjusting and refining teaching techniques based on research. Anchored on improving reading, writing and communication, they work to gradually change how teachers approach professional development and how students learn—including fostering a positive learning culture at home. This boosts both student and teacher motivation and improves learning outcomes.
Through the NEI’s ‘Teacher Growth Model’, Professor Zhu also tackles the real global problem of teacher burnout. With access to reading catalogues, resources, platforms and virtual colleges, teachers read and reflect, write and share – keeping frontline educators connected to the latest academic research. And they build a professional development community, preventing rural teachers from feeling isolated and undervalued. Educators in many countries could benefit from studying the NEI approach to teacher motivation and empowerment.
Reading and working together are also central to the ‘Learning Well Being Toolkit’ for students, teachers, and parents. The extended school library offers on-campus and after-school learning resources and uses innovative teaching and learning techniques such as students and teachers writing essays together and shared reading between parents and children. By bringing a learner’s whole community together, NEI’s approach transforms home environments into positive learning spaces, promotes a growth mindset, and fosters a collaborative, compassionate approach to citizenship. This collaborative approach of working together towards clear learning goals encourages a deepening of education outcomes beyond a focus on teaching to-test and exams.
Schools from all levels of the socio-economic spectrum have benefited from this set of interventions. And the results are tangible, with measurable impact in improving learning outcomes for both teacher professional development and for students.
There are too many dimensions of NEI to detail here. Fortunately, the rest of its work is well documented in Professor Yongxin Zhu’s publications. His books have shaped thinking around education all over the world. And evaluation studies carried out by institutes in Asia have seen NEI’s experiences influence policy. Looking ahead, Professor Zhu plans a cloud-based learning hub to support teacher professional development, building on the experiences of remote learning during the pandemic.
I take this opportunity to congratulate Professor Yongxin Zhu on his life’s work. His commitment to an inclusive and holistic approach is simply inspiring. Many countries will find examples within China that can provide ideas and solutions for similar environments in their own countries.
His persistence in working in the most challenging contexts demonstrates that our greatest tools for transforming education are our minds and mindsets. Perhaps most importantly, he reminds us of the importance of joy and wellbeing for each and every learner. On behalf of the judging panel I wish him and his colleagues continued growth and success in their work.