China: Is Our School Life Heaven or Hell?

Like many other countries, China takes education seriously. In China, we normally have a six-year primary school, followed by a three-year middle school (Junior) and a three-year high school (Senior) before we finally enter college. Many differences between China and other countries may be found throughout these twelve years.

 

Why heaven? School life in China brings its teens a lot of good qualities!

Team spirit: We Chinese like to emphasize the conception of a team. While many foreign schools allow their students to choose their lessons themselves and therefore, be put in different classes with different classmates, it doesn’t apply to most of Chinese schools. We have certain schedules and are supposed to stay in a certain classroom, together with certain classmates. So the conception of a “team”, or in this situation, a “class”, seems to be much more important, for we spend a lot of time with our mates. Almost every teacher in Chinese schools considers ‘class-building’ as a hard but unavoidable task. So do we, the students. We study together, exercise together, eat in our school dining room chatting with others. The time spent together strengthens our relationships. Classmates are also our great friends. Even after many years pass, students may keep in touch with their previous classmates.

To improve students’ team spirit, many school activities are held in the name of the class, such as the annual celebration of New Year, which encourages students to make performances in their class and have fun together. There are also some activities for which classes compete against each other, such as our Art Festival, Technology Festival and sports meeting. Winners of such activities are often announced as “Class One” or “Class Two” instead of their names, even if the victory is due to only one student.

While fully respecting every individual, we have to acknowledge the great importance of team. All the wonderful achievements in China today rely on a team of people devoted to the group.

 

Discipline: Chinese schools especially emphasize students’ sense of discipline. It doesn’t mean we need to live as soldiers, but means that we have a much stricter code of conduct to obey, especially in those famous schools. This code of conduct aims to instruct students about what is good and what is bad, how to do things correctly when we are still young and easily misled by others. We are supposed to follow it exactly, in order to grow to be a better person.

Military training is a necessary part in almost every Chinese middle schools, high schools and colleges, often before new students start their new school life. It is held in a special base, not real army, but by real soldiers. During these days students are required to learn some basic skills like goose step. But the most important thing is that students can learn discipline and tenacity from a-week-or-more training. These qualities are thought to be significant in study and in daily life.

 

Depth of knowledge: Chinese students usually have nine main subjects (including Chinese, mathematics, English, physics, chemistry, biology, politics, history and geography) and several other subjects (such as music, art, physical education and computer). Before going to college and choosing a specific major, we have to study all these subjects. Because of that, we Chinese students can grasp comprehensive knowledge during middle school and high school.

Chinese courses are generally more difficult than in many other countries. For example, in Australia, when students learn conic curve, they merely know its definition. However, in China, the use of some relevant theorems is more important. Generally speaking, Chinese students learn much more difficult things than some others’.

 

Why hell? Breaking off teenagers’ wings

Utilitarianism: Chinese education is often called an ‘exam-oriented education’. This nickname is a typical expression of the utilitarianism in the education practice.

Here’s a typical situation as an example. Qian Liqun, one of the most famous professors in Peking university, once taught a session named “Selected readings of Lu Xun” in a famous high school. But then, he found that only twenty students came, for the reason that “We wouldn’t have disliked coming to your class, but it was not relevant for Gaokao (college  entrance examination), so we’d rather get infos on Peking university at first and then come to listen to your class”

To get a higher mark in the college entrance examination, students have to give up on their own interests and only focus on studying mandatory courses. In my school, most of the books are forbidden when we are in third grade, because the books are seen as a waste of time, no matter how fantastic they are are. Also,most of the students only have to worry about their school work, so they rarely get part-time job when they are young. Nor are they devoted to social or volunteer work, which makes them lack some basic and essential skills when they grow up and get to work.

Even more: Chinese children, especially children in primary school, also study many extra skills such as music, drawing, dancing. However most of them do not study for fun or to follow their hearts, but according to their parents expectation of upward mobility.

Most of the time, what the students study and know is not what they like; what has a tremendous importance is not what they need. The society never needs a worker who only knows how to work out a mathematic problem, but doesn’t know how to live and work with other people.

 

Simplification: In Chinese middle school, we hardly have any optional courses, and because of the existence of the settled class, all of us get the same knowledge. The single examination system also limits students’ horizons. In China, there is a vivid metaphor: our middle school education is just like an assembly line, producing the exactly same product, not taking care of the personality at all!

On the other hand, in a couple of top-range middle schools, there are abundant clubs and school activities prepared for students. But we also have to admit that the clubs are virtually imaginary in a certain sense, for students have few breaks and time to organize various activities, and the school activities are limited to a number of traditional ones (such as reciting, singing, sports meetings and so on). Most of these activities are still team work and lack demonstrations of any personal ability.

The homework we are given is also a reason why we can talk about simplification. Unlike some European and American countries, there is no essay to write in our middle school homework, but fixed subject. Even Chinese compositions, the one task that can best reflect one’s theoretical thinking, also have many fixed routines. Therefore, Chinese middle school students easily lack personal analytical and thinking skills.

So when everyone learns the same courses’ content, reads the same books, does the same exercises everyday, how can our education raise skilled people who love the field they’ll be working in and are good at it? 

 

Harm: The harm caused by education in China is divided into two aspects: physical and mental.

Long hours of study have seriously affected the health of Chinese students. In China, due to the serious pressure of competition, most of the students have to work more than 16 hours a day. For example, in our school, we have to go to school at 6:50, and go back home at 23:30. Many students still can’t finish their homework at that time, so after they get back home, they still have to work many more hours. “Sleep only five hours” is a typical thing people in grade three can be told, because it is an evidence of dedication and in some cases, it can lead to better grades. But apparently, chronic lack of sleep and physical exercise can do great harm to health. In a general way, high school graduates are always in poor health. (We have a joke that says: every student in grade 3 will gain more than ten pounds!)

Distorted competition regimes and excessive pressure can also be the cause of many psychological problems. “Every senior grade 3 student cries at least once a year “. More seriously, some students develop autism or anorexia. Some students only consider their grade and are never curious towards the outside world. They even think that chatting with others is a waste of time. It’s a vicious circle: they become more and more asocial, and without necessary communication, the pressure on their shoulders becomes heavier; so they see, even more, their grades as a reflection of their own value as an individual. And once they loose the competition, their mental state will sharply deteriorate.

 

Education is a thing that has its good and bad sides but can hardly be evaluated fairly. Many Chinese parents hate the education they have gone through, so they spare no effort to send their own kids abroad. But there also rumors that some schools in Britain and America want to introduce Chinese textbooks to their class. Actually, the evaluation of education can never be separated from the conditions of the country. What’s the special national conditions of China? It is huge and has a large population. There is an obvious gap in economy, society and population quality and therefore, education. The normal solution in some developed countries now seems unfair in China. Some provinces, that have a better environment and better opportunities, are much better in education without doubt, which is also unfair for those who live in mountainous areas. Also, there are a huge number of graduates every year. Only in Shaanxi, my province, the number of high school graduates goes up to 268,000. A universal examination may then appear to be a convenient way to deal with the problem. School life in China today is then merely decided by the way colleges choose their students.

Twelve years have passed. Now, when I look back to the life I have had these years, I can’t say whether they were good or bad. They are memories. How many twelve years will we have? Eight? Nine? No more than ten. These years were, at the utmost, 10% of my lifetime. And no matter whether they were heaven or hell, they are a precious period of time in our life, that make us the people we are today. School life in China is far away from perfect. We are still trying to improve it. But more important, it is neither heaven nor hell: it is memory, or rather, life.

 

Written by Yihan Liu, Keeper of China

Photo credits: http://shsworldstudies.blogspot.com

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