As part of growing up in China children are taught that you do things for the glory. You do your school work so that you will one day bring glory to your nation by helping it become the strongest nation on Earth, you bring glory to your ancestors, your province and your family by studying hard and doing well. The school system is based on rote learning. Students enter the gates at 7:30am and leave around 4-5pm depending on what grade level they are in. That is Monday to Friday. There is also school on a Saturday where the students do more ‘fun’ things like games and sports. That is from 7:30-3:30pm. The students are groomed as they are growing to do certain jobs and fulfill whatever it is the task that their parents have chosen for them. Some parents send their children to special schools for gymnastics for example where at the age of 4 they are left at a boarding school of sorts, they are fed, clothed and bathed by a stranger, where they are trained, stretched, pushed and pulled until they snap physically or bring glory.
As I draw comparisons between the children that I have taught over the years and the children here I am torn in many directions. I love that education is revered and is seen as a privilege even though it is mandatory for all children up until grade 9. In our comfortable first world lifestyles children rarely see education as a privilege. It is seen as something they have to do and it is boring and annoying. Teachers are for some reason the bad guys because they expect students to work and be accountable and are fast becoming the bad guys to the parents too because they are making the little princes and princesses upset and uncomfortable, by holding them accountable. It is becoming rare to have a parent in your corner backing you to push their child to be the best that they can be. China has this part of education 100% right.
Education should still be seen as a privilege. Not FOR the privileged but A privilege that is provided to make us the best that we can be as an individual who will in someway, big or small, help build a wonderful country to live in. I agree that every child on the planet needs education and it is in no way only for the wealthy or just for the smart ones but sadly these days the way in which we view education in the western world is diminishing in its stature.
I feel sad because children here don’t get to be children. They don’t get to run and play in the afternoons, hang out with the other neighbour kids and get into mischief together. They get home and do hours of homework even if they are very young. They have dinner and they go to bed.
I am annoyed because of the way that the children learn in China. They purely rote learn. There is no creativity and actual discovery. They are taught a fact and for those that are able to remember the most facts win the prize and the glory of being top students. They have their curiosity removed from them and they just do a task. This is why China is so good at manufacturing. They don’t have to invent or design or come up with original ideas they just have to do a task and do it over. Students here are taught English from the 1st grade until the 12th grade. Most of them, however, cannot speak a word of it once they leave school. Why? Because they are tested on their spelling and written sentence structure not on their verbal ability. So no student bothers to learn to speak English, they only bother to learn to write it. Why waste your time on something you are not going to be tested on? (I am 100% guilty of this when doing both of my degrees so I totally agree with the kids on that one!) Recently a Chinese lady that we met was open and honest with me when I asked her questions about education, she said
"Here in China we make good workers but we will never be good managers. We do not learn to think for ourselves. You in the west make good managers because you are able to think freely but you do not make good workers." She absolutely nailed it!
There is no room for poor behaviour or learning difficulties, mental or even physical illness. You just keep going. As I sat last week on our local bar strip and watched the kids returning home after their immensely long day at a desk I was witness to what could only sum up the life of a student here. There was a boy who was roughly 14 years old walking along the street with his mother. He was ducking and weaving around her swinging arm and she was absolutely letting him have it. Clearly this student had just received a poor grade or comment from his teacher and this mother was letting him know about it. She was yelling and swinging her hands trying to connect with the boy so that it was more than just a verbal flogging. Myself and a couple of other people watched and commented on this poor kid. He was going to have a very uncomfortable night for the shame that he had brought upon his mother for whatever it was that he had done. On one hand amusing to us because at some point we have all experienced a swinging hand from our parents but sad because this poor kid probably just wanted to have some kid fun. He had done something imperfect and lost face for his family. In China you do EVERYTHING to ensure you save face. You lie, you cheat, and you do whatever it is that you need to so long as you come out with "a good face".
After the students enter the gates at 7:30am they usually go to their classrooms and read for 45 minutes. The school is very quiet and then there is a daily assembly. The students all line up in perfect rows and face the principal and listen to messages about school life and what great things China’s government is doing. Like statues they stand wearing their white shirts and red neck ties. Depending on which school the students are at will determine which coloured track pants they will wear. Some are even gender coded. Girls wear pink or purple and the boys wear blue or black. The younger kids are all in the same coloured pants. A comfy uniform for sitting all day.
We are flanked by 2 schools so I can hear when there is a morning break and when there is a lunch break and afternoon break. The silence of the neighbourhood is shattered and there are thousands of voices all talking and screaming and yelling. There is even a bit of laughter in there too. At the end of the day there is usually a traffic jam around the school with scooters, cars and bikes all jamming towards the one place to pick up the students. The little ones look absolutely exhausted as they are walked or biked home usually by the grandparents. I have seen a young child, maybe 6 years old, strapped into their grandparents bike asleep in their little bike seat just meters from school. Pure exhaustion.
I watched a group of ‘rebel’ teenagers recently hanging around the local convenience store. They were being what I would consider normal boys roughing each other up and checking out the girls as they walked past in their school uniforms. Normal for me, not normal for China. I stood at the corner watching them with such delight. It was the first time I had seen kids behaving as kids. Dorky, gangly, glasses wearing, bucked teeth kids. To further draw attention to themselves one of them dropped his bag and let out a raucous “Shit Dude!” in his best English. I laughed because it was so random and his accent made it sound entirely ridiculous. The girls that they were trying to impress walked past and giggled all shy and uncomfortable. The ‘rebel’ boys who, in Australia or America would have been the brunt of bullying, shuffled off down the street pleased with themselves that they were able to flex some non-existent muscle on the social scene of the street of Xuhui. (Shoo-hway)
Our kids have it lucky. Although I hate that word so I will say our kids are fortunate to be born in a place where they can be kids and where they are only at school 6 hours a day 5 days per week, 40 weeks per year. Where they get time to discover other pursuits aside from rote learning and book work. Our kids are privileged that education has become a right in their country and that no matter who you are you have access to a school with facilities for you no matter your ability. Our kids also have the privilege of having teachers who work to ensure they learn to think for themselves, create and problem solve and who encourage them to follow which ever path they desire with an endless list of opportunities to shine. Whilst I love that education and teachers are held in high esteem in China, I would rather be part of a system that encourages students to follow what interests them and what makes them tick, parental support or not.