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Unique class is in session

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-31 07:46

Niu Jun with young leukemia patients in the Children's Hospital of Shanghai's dedicated classroom.Zhou Wenting / China Daily

Shanghai hospital first in city to offer regular schooling for young leukemia patients

A hospital ward in Shanghai that cares for children with leukemia has become the first in the city to provide regular classes taught by schoolteachers.

Education provision at the Children's Hospital of Shanghai used to be sporadic, at best, with classes given only occasionally by university students who were all volunteers.

This was an issue because children undergoing treatment for leukemia have to be hospitalized for weeks at a time over a period of two to three years.

Many ended up suspending their schooling altogether, which concerned Niu Jun, head of the hospital's social work department.

"It's important that they don't become separated from their education or fall behind in regards to their communication and interpersonal skills, because when they recover they will go back to school," said the 39-year-old Shanghai native.

To remedy the situation, Niu invited teachers from 12 of the city's kindergartens, primary and junior high schools to give lessons at the hospital, starting last spring.

They teach the curriculum, covering subjects such as Chinese, mathematics, social studies, science and art once a week.

The 50 or so children receiving treatment for leukemia are divided into three age groups and attend class in a room next to their ward, which is furnished in much the same way as a school classroom would be.

Sun Zhanli, an 11-year-old who was diagnosed with leukemia a year ago, said he looks forward to going to class every week.

"I'd even like to attend the classes for younger children if I could," said the boy from Lianyungang, Jiangsu province.

Liu Jing, whose 7-year-old daughter is also undergoing treatment, said she appreciates the hospital's efforts in providing for both her child's medical needs and psychological development.

A survey carried out by Niu's team three years ago found that nearly two in three young leukemia patients have emotional problems following their diagnosis, with their top concern being education.

"Such emotional change is more obvious with older children, especially those who performed well academically before coming to the hospital. Many would become depressed and introvert," he said.

"So we established this platform for children to interact with their peers and have access to education, which boosts their confidence."

To encourage the children to participate, they are given a stamp at the end of each class which, if they collect enough, can be exchanged for tickets to popular attractions such as Shanghai Disneyland and Changfeng Park aquarium.

Niu, who has an 8-year-old son, said the experience of being a father had given him fresh insight into how to care for children.

But he has known he wanted to work with youngsters ever since he started working at the hospital as a lab technician 19 years ago, he said.

"Most of the time when we see children in the hospital they are crying, but if you play with them or give them gifts, they will show you such pure smiles from the bottom of their hearts," he said.

"I want to see them smile more, and that is why I persevere."

Niu requested a transfer to the social work department 12 years ago and now dedicates his time to improving the hospital experience of children and raising funds to help impoverished families pay their medical bills.

He and his team raised more than 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) last year, benefiting about 500 young patients from poor families.

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