Tough Master

Ah, Chinese school. There’s probably a law somewhere requiring all blogs on China to talk about the whispered school system, with it’s shockingly long days and frightening teachers. So here I am, on a cold Monday evening in November, writing a blog on Chinese school.

We’ll come to the whispered horrors later. However, despite how it achieves that, it is undeniable that Chinese schools produce outstanding students. Year after year the league tables come out, Chinese toddlers shaming Britain’s teenagers, and with it a torrent of articles using lots of educational jargon to sound like something impressive is being implemented in our schools.

The fact is, schools can’t be perfect. All thirty or so students in a class will be at different places, and it’s impossible for a teacher to go at the right pace for all of them. In Britain, we create sets and smaller groups (at a cost) – but in China, the problem is not addressed by the teachers. The competition is ingrained into a child’s mind from an early age, so if you’re behind, tough.

The point of education is to set you up for life. The teacher is there to tell you what you need to know, and then they will test you on it. Due to this attitude, nearly all Chinese students get private tutoring after school -補習班 (which perhaps unsurprisingly translates to ‘cram school’!), which makes school drag long into the evening. It’s a myth that most Chinese schools finish at 11pm, it’s just that everyone gets cram school, the teachers can’t be bothered to finish on time, and obscene amounts of homework are set every night.

Talking of homework, here’s another huge contrast to British schools. Even five year olds are still expected to study their second grade textbooks for hours a day at home, and that pretty much is your rhythm of life for the next 15 years. I’ve been talking to my Chinese friends on HelloTalk again (yes, still unashamedly in mostly English), and the pictures of their physics homework they send me at half past 11 at night looks way beyond anything we might see at GCSE. Science and maths are the ‘hard’ subjects which show your intelligence, and the only other subject which will matter is English in a 21st century English world.

It’s somewhat alarming that the Chinese school system has drawn those conclusions from today’s society. Languages are seeing a decline in British and American schools, due to the fact that nearly a quarter of the world speaks English, and that figure is only going to go up. Scientific innovation is forecast to leap forwards more in the next century than ever before in history, so if humanities, languages and arts being neglected by the teachers next generation, what does that mean for the future of those areas?


Things I’ve learned this week:

  • ‘Cram school’ is the way to go if you’re heading for the top
  • It’s amazing that Chinese kids have any social lives (or do they?!)
  • Everyone learns English from age 5. Can you say that about any language in British schools?

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