It’s been a while since I left China. It’s become a mostly negative memory, a bit like looking back on a bad relationship and thinking yes it had it’s moments but, seriously, why did I stay that long?
There’s an interesting series just started on BBC (still on BBC iplayer if you’re in UK or have VPN) called Are Our KidsTough Enough, where British high school students are taught by Chinese teachers using Chinese methodology, to see what works best.
Chinese students are years ahead of British ones in maths and science, although it is also true that the Chinese study these subjects for many more hours than the British, usually to the detriment of arts and humanities. They also devote much less time to reading for pleasure or any other activity that could be called ‘leisure’.
In Chinese schools, the emphasis is on rote learning. As a Chinese student once told me, ‘the teacher gives us the knowledge and we write it down’. (However interesting to note in the programme that there were a few British students for whom rote learning worked better).
School hours in China are long, and when students are not at school they are taking extra tuition in maths, English or whatever else parents feel is needed, or they are doing homework or some kind of self-study.
Pressure is immense. It’s no coincidence that the suicide rate among teenagers is so high in China. Parents tell their offspring that if they fail their exams their life is effectively over anyway. In a society where there is no old-age pension and usually only one child to keep you in your old age, you need your son or daughter to earn a good salary.
Students rarely develop any viewpoints other than the one given to them by their parents or their teachers. They lack any ability in creative thinking. The Chinese system does not encourage critical thought. If you want your workforce highly educated but unable to think for themselves, then the Chinese system succeeds at that.
As to whether that will work with British kids, God I certainly hope not. I’d rather our schools were churning out emotionally intelligent adults (not that I think our schools succeed in doing that, but that’s a whole other article).