CHINESE SCHOOLS: EXAMS, CURRICULUM, COSTS AND IDEOLOGY

CHINESE SCHOOLS

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School in a cave in the Shaanxi Loess Region
China has the world's most primary schools (861,878 in 1993). India has the most secondary schools (241,129 in 1994). Elementary and secondary educational institutions have significantly raised literacy rates and attendance, but schools are hamstrung by financing problems.

Average years of school for people 25 years and older: 3.6 years for females; 6 years for males (Compared to 1.2 years for females and 3.5 years for males in India; and 12.4 years for females and 12.2 years for males in the United States. According to the World Bank 93 percent of Chinese males complete the 5th grade.

A law passed in the 1980s states that every child has the right to nine years in school. Compulsory education ends after the ninth grade. Most kids leave school at that time and before that and look for work or help their family doing agricultural work.

According to government statistics, 95 percent of all children start school but the drop out rate is high. Only 80 percent graduate from elementary school. In poor rural areas the enrollment is only about 60 percent, with only 70 percent completing the first four years of primary school. Fewer than 35 percent of China's youth enter high school, and of these the drop out rate is high.

The schools in the cities are often better than the ones in the countryside. They have an easier time getting government money, teachers and books. The children generally come from families that are better off than there rural counterparts, and money they pay for school expenses helps make the schools better. Schools in major cities typically produce students with strong math and science skills. Rural schools often lack sufficient money, and dropout rates can be high.

Websites and Films About Schools in China

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Muslim students with
slate boards
Good Websites and Sources: School Life in Beijing bvs-os.de/eigenes/china ; Life in New China whatkidscando.org ; Scenes from Primary School Life radio86.co.uk/china-insight/china-perspective/one-mans-china School Life Video YouTube ; Precious Children PBS Show pbs.org/kcts/preciouschildren ; China Education Blog chinaeducationblog.com

Links in this Website: CHINESE EDUCATION Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE SCHOOLS Factsanddetails.com/China ; SCHOOL LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE UNIVERSITIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; Good Websites and Sources on Education in China : History of Education System in China math.ksu.edu ; Center on Chinese Education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College tc.columbia.edu ; China Today on Chinese Schools chinatoday.com ; China Education Blog chinaeducationblog.com ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Education Wikipedia ; China Education and Research Network (Chinese Government Site) edu.cn/english ; China Education and Research Network Statistics edu.cn/HomePage/english/statistics ; Busy Kids chinadaily.com.cn ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Education Bibliography mclc.osu.edu ; Chinatown Connection chinatownconnection.com ; Education in the 1980s cis.yale.edu ; China Research Paper Search china-research-papers.com

Senior Year (2005), a film by Zhao Hao, is an in-depth examination of how a class of teenagers prepares for the national college entrance exams in China. When it comes to anxiety about how the U.S compares with other nations, there’s always plenty to go around. But for a real wake-up call, nothing can compare to Zhou Hao’s Senior Year, an in-depth examination of how a class of teenagers prepares for the national college entrance exams that will determine their destinies. Faced with mountains of memorization and rigid behavioral standards, most buckle down, but some rebel and some simply crumble under the pressure. Zhou brings tenderness, humor, and quiet outrage to this rare, behind-the-scenes look at China’s educational system.

The Village Elementary ( Changchuan cun xiao ) by new director Huang Mei is a deceptively simple film about rural education and poverty. Huang’s honesty, her respect for her subjects,including a charismatically intellectual, politically aware, but sadly frustrated Sichuanese elementary teacher, gives the film a dirt-poor lyricism that tightly binds the minute details of individual lives to larger issues of political powerlessness and economic dependence.” [Ibid]

School Costs in China

Parents generally have to pay fees for books and uniforms, which are required at most schools. Often they also have to pay for things like electricity, paper, snacks and even report cards. In Beijing, parents have to dish out $20 or more a month for kindergarten. Often the fees add up to several hundred dollars a year. Many rural families can't afford these fees nor can they afford to lose the help of their children in the fields.

Secondary students have to pay a long list of fees, including those for tuition, dormitory rooms, textbooks, and computer access. The fees often are between $200 and $300 a year and are often more than what rural farmers make in a year. Students whose families are behind on their payments are often scolded by their teachers in front of the other students in class. Teachers in turn are pressured by administrators to collect. Those that don’t collect have money docked from their salary.

Rural families often make great sacrifices to send their children to school. The children in turn feel a lot of pressure to perform well, get good jobs and provide for the parents and relatives that made so many sacrifices.

Chinese families spend more on education than anything else except housing. Education is a huge growth industry. Between 2002 and 2005 the market for courses, books and materials more than doubled to $90 billion.

In the mid 2000s, tuition fees were waved for 150 million rural students as part of an effort to narrow the standard-of-living gap between the rich coastal areas and the impoverished countryside. Students became exempt from tuition and incidental fees for their nine-year compulsory education beginning in the spring of 2007. The effort costs the Chinese government about $2 billion per year

Elite elementary schools in Shanghai cost $1,200 a year and accept only 20 percent of applicants.

Universities have become overcrowded because many more parents can afford to send their children to secondary school.

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Exam cells at a school for mandarins

Traditional Chinese Schools

In the old days schools were part of temples and family shrines. In family shrines, the front hall served as a classroom, the rear of the ceremonial hall and the wings on both sides were dormitories.

These traditional Chinese academies were the forerunners today's schools. The provided a place of learning and a place of worship. Teachers and students lived together in the academy. Education emphasized character development as well as the acquisition of knowledge.

See Civil Service Exam, Education

The teacher holds a high position in Confucian traditions. Students are expected to obediently follow their teachers and not question or challenge their authority or knowledge. In the classic Confucian education, students memorized moral precepts in the belief that the precepts would rub off on them. The Communist didn’t like Confucius. They categorized him as a class enemy.

In many ways, the system is a reflection of China’s Confucianist past. Children are expected to honor and respect their parents and teachers. “Discipline is rarely a problem,” said Ding Yi, vice principal at the middle school affiliated with Jing An Teachers’ College. “The biggest challenge is a student who chronically fails to do his homework.”

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Students at a modern Confucian school

Confucian Schools

A number of Confucian schools have opened up in recent years. The head of one such school in Shanghai told Reuters, “Parents send their children here mostly because they are keen on Chinese culture. Modern teaching using traditional Chinese methods failed because the schools abandoned the ancient approach to education, which asked students to read, read and read.”

Students spend much of their reciting Confucian classic, with children as young as three memorizing passages of The Analects. The father of a 11-year-old at a Confucian school told the Washington Post, “I don’t want my son to be like all those poor kids who have to take exams all the time. My son is more polite after attending this school, and I don’t have to push him to study.”

Describing a Confucian school outside Shanghai, Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “At the Chrysanthemum Study school...primary school children sit cross-legged at traditional foot-high desks, brush and inkstand at the ready, Their teacher, dressed in a Han dynasty robe with long hanging sleeves, instructs them in Confucian precepts. Respect your parents. Eschew bad habits. Show deference.”

At some universities student are required to take morality and respect for parents classes. For homework students have been asked to wash their parents feet. One student who was asked to do this told the Los Angeles Times, “It think it’s a bit outdated. Parents can go to the foot massage salons themselves if they really want. They don’t need us to do it.”

Chinese Communist Schools

The goal of Communist education policy was to teach the illiterate masses how or read and write, and channel talented young people into science and technology. Recalling school during the Mao era, one man told National Geographic, "In school, mostly we studied about how to farm and be factory workers."

Schools and universities were closed during the Cultural Revolution. See Lost Generation, Crackdown on Intellectuals, Cultural Revolution

In the 1970s, students spent part of each year working in the countryside or on a commune. When the finished middle school they went to a commune or factory to work for two years. After some time the community decided whether the student should go to college or university.

These days elementary school students are taught the importance of achieving a per capita GNP of a developed country by 2050 and told: "We must achieve the goal of modern socialist construction...We must oppose the freedom of the capitalist class, and we must be vigilant against the conspiracy to make a peaceful evolution towards imperialism."

Students in many places are required to carry a card with eight "Student regulations." The first three are: "1) Ardently love the Motherland, support the Chinese Communist Party's leadership, be resolved to serve Socialism's undertaking and serve the people. 2) Diligently study Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought progressively establish a Proletariat class viewpoint, authenticate a viewpoint of Historical Materialism. 3) Diligently study, work, hard to master basic theory, career knowledge, and basic technical ability."

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Assembly at a rural school

Rural Schools in China

A typical rural school is a dirty, whitewashed building made of mud brick and cement. In the classrooms there is no heat or electricity. Light comes from two small windows. There are generally few academic and athletic facilities other than a chalkboard, maybe some desks and chairs and courtyard where children play rough games. Schools are considered well equipped if they have a dirt soccer field.

Describing the classroom for kindergarten class in a small town school, Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “The classroom was dirty, and there was a hole in the ceiling. The blackboard was chipped and scarred, Twenty children sat at their desks; each of them playing with a pile of Lego-like bricks. There were only three girls.” There was no bathroom. Children relived themselves through the schoolyard fence.

Children from a wide range of ages and abilities often attend the same class. Bright students are often selected by the family to go to school while slow learners have to stay home and help with chores around the house. In rural areas, many children have to walk several miles to their schools.

In villages that have lost their schools due to declining populations as adults have left to find jobs, kids begin boarding at away schools when they are in the first grade and come home only for weekends.

In some villages about only one kid every ten years makes it to college.

Primary Schools and Preschool Education in China

Preschool education, which began at age three and one-half, was another target of education reform in 1985. Preschool facilities were to be established in buildings made available by public enterprises, production teams, municipal authorities, local groups, and families. The government announced that it depended on individual organizations to sponsor their own preschool education and that preschool education was to become a part of the welfare services of various government organizations, institutes, and state- and collectively operated enterprises. Costs for preschool education varied according to services rendered. Officials also called for more preschool teachers with more appropriate training. [Source: Library of Congress]

The development of primary education in so vast a country as China was a formidable accomplishment. In contrast to the 20- percent enrollment rate before 1949, in 1985 about 96 percent of primary-school-age children were enrolled in approximately 832,300 primary schools. This enrollment figure compared favorably with the record figures of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when enrollment standards were more egalitarian. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Under the Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education, primary schools were to be tuition-free and reasonably located for the convenience of children attending them; students would attend primary schools in their neighborhoods or villages. Parents paid a small fee per term for books and other expenses such as transportation, food, and heating. Previously, fees were not considered a deterrent to attendance, although some parents felt even these minor costs were more than they could afford. Under the education reform, students from poor families received stipends, and state enterprises, institutions, and other sectors of society were encouraged to establish their own schools. [Ibid]

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sports meet

“Children usually entered primary school at seven years of age for six days a week. The two-semester school year consisted of 9.5 months, with a long vacation in July and August. Urban primary schools typically divided the school week into twenty-four to twenty-seven classes of forty-five minutes each, but in the rural areas the norm was half-day schooling, more flexible schedules, and itinerant teachers. Most primary schools had a five-year course, except in such cities as Beijing and Shanghai, which had reintroduced six-year primary schools and accepted children at six and one-half years rather than seven. [Ibid]

“The primary-school curriculum consisted of Chinese, mathematics, physical education, music, drawing, and elementary instruction in nature, history, and geography, combined with practical work experiences around the school compound. A general knowledge of politics and moral training, which stressed love of the motherland, love of the party, and love of the people (and previously love of Chairman Mao), was another part of the curriculum. A foreign language, often English, was introduced in about the third grade. Chinese and mathematics accounted for about 60 percent of the scheduled class time; natural science and social science accounted for about 8 percent. Putonghua (common spoken language) was taught in regular schools and pinyin romanization in lower grades and kindergarten. [Ibid]

“The State Education Commission required that all primary schools offer courses on communist ideology and morality. Beginning in the fourth grade, students usually had to perform productive labor two weeks per semester to relate classwork with production experience in workshops or on farms and subordinate it to academic study. Most schools had after-hour activities at least one day per week--often organized by the Young Pioneers--to involve students in recreation and community service. [Ibid]

Exams, Curriculum and Memorization

Students must memorize vast amounts of information to pass major tests, with the biggest determining factor in who attends elite universities and who does not being the gaokao , China’s grueling, ultra-competitive university entrance exam. Chinese spend much of their childhood memorizing and writing characters. By the time a student is 15 he or she has spent four or five hours a day over nine years learning to write a minimum of 3,000 characters.

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a high school

Stephen Wong wrote in the Asia Times, “It's possible that no other country has as many exams as China. From school admissions and job recruitment to promotion in the civil service, exams are an inseparable part of Chinese life. Incomplete statistics show that there are 200 government-organized nationwide examinations and that nearly 40 million people take national tests each year. The number would be much bigger if local-level tests were included on the list. [Source:Stephen Wong Asia Times, August 22, 2009]

There is a strong emphasis on studying and academics over sports. In many school less than two hours a week is devoted to sports. A Stanford University math professor who studied the math curricula in East Asia told the Los Angeles Times. “There is a very small body of factual mathematics that students need to learn but they need to learn it really, rally well.

Official patriotic classes for children was introduced in 1994 to support one party rule but had been around in one form or another since the Communist take over of China. In school, children are taught beginning at an early age that the party rescued China in 1949 from poverty, chaos and humiliation and saved Tibet from feudalism and backwardness. History classes emphasize the humiliation that China endured ay the hands of Europeans after the Opium Wars and the Japanese before and during World War II but have little or nothing to say about the Cultural Revolution or Tiananmen Square.

See Language

Confucian and Taoism are taught in school.

Teacher’s Thoughts On What He Was Taught in Chinese Schools

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Turn-of-the-century school
Fan Meizhong entered Peking University in 1992 after getting the highest score in Sichuan Province on the university entrance exam. At university, he was shocked to see the great gap between himself and his more knowledgeable urban peers. He chose to immerse himself in books, as he wrote in an impassioned article “Seeking Meaningful Education” as a middle school teacher. [Source: Candy Zeng, Asia Times, July 18, 2008]

But the more he read, he came to realize that what he had been taught might largely be untrue. More importantly, he had never been trained to think independently. He decided to teach and influence young students at middle school and thus returned Sichuan after graduation.

As an educator, Fan regularly ignored history textbooks and introduced Chinese and Western philosophers and ideologists to broaden the vision of his students. He lost his first teaching job after some parents complained to the school board. Then he worked in schools and media in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Beijing, Hangzhou and Chengdu, each for less than three years.

On his blog Fan wrote: “I have been extremely [hurt] for not being born in a free country such as the United States which respects human rights. [This has led] to my suffering [for] more than 10 years after my graduation [from university] and from the 17 years [of] awful education. I asked god repeatedly: why do you put me in dictatorial and dark China while giving me a soul devoted to freedom and truth?”

Marxist Education in China

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Students inspired by Lei Feng
As it is spelled out in Article 3 of the national education law, classes in Marxist philosophy are compulsory in Chinese schools. From kindergarten to high school students are required to take two classes a week in ideological education. In college they must take two more courses. The article states “In developing socialist educational undertakings the state shall uphold Marxism-Leninist, Mao Zedong thought and the theories of constructing socialism with Chinese characteristics as directions and with the basic principles of the Constitution."

The “political education” that students receive includes the history of the Communist Party, and its victories over cruel landlords, Imperial powers and Chang Kai-shek. Atheism has also traditionally been part of the curriculum.

These days the ideology classes often touch more on nationalistic themes and ethical behavior than class struggle and dictatorship of the proletariat. A education official told the Los Angeles Times, “Before there was a lot of indoctrination.” Now “we stress a lot of traditional virtues, like respecting teachers and respecting the elderly. Especially now, we stress honesty.”

At university-level Marxism classes students read the newspaper, fiddle with their cell phones and make no effort to hid their boredom.. The teacher of one such class told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s a big challenge.”

Nationalism and Education

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Cultural Revolution Book
Many link China’s strong sense of nationalism to what kids are taught in schools. After Tiananmen Square, Deng Xiaoping declared in a speech to China’s military leaders that the cause of the unrest was the result of political education being ignored. After that new textbooks were created that emphasized China’s cultural achievements side by side with the humiliations experienced by China at the hands of foreigners, often in lurid detail, aimed at bolstering feeling of nationalism inflaming feeling against foreigners.

The curriculum is patriotic and is designed to serve the needs of the ruling regime more than it is to educate students. The Chinese government has been very critical of the Japanese government for whitewashing it militaristic activities in World War II and the occupation of China in their school textbooks. But Chinese textbooks also leave a lot out. They mention the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution but not the atrocities and of death associated with them. There is nothing about Tiananmen Square but there is plenty about Japanese atrocities.

In the mid 1990s, the Chinese government began emphasizing patriotic education focusing of love of country and the loyalty to the Communist Party. An immigrant from Inner Mongolia to the United States told the Los Angeles Times, “Most Chinese end up believing the government view of history. While a lot of students don’t take history seriously, unconsciously it becomes part of your thinking.”

Students are taught to hate Japan and the United States. They are taught that 300,000 Chinese were killed by the Japanese in 1937 Nanjing Massacre. Americans are criticized for meddling in the affairs of other countries,

Patriotic education also spills into television, film and the news media. In many ways its message and getting ahead economically have replaced Marxist-Leninism as the guiding ideologies of China as Communist ideology has become dated and irrelevant to what is happening on the ground in China.

In December 2008, the government announced that beginning in primary school students would study “ethnic unity.” The move was response to unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang the previous months.

South Korea, China, Thailand and Taiwan have all incorporated English into their primary school curriculum. English, See Language

A pilot program was started to the mid 2000s, using Chinese translations of American earth science and life science textbooks in 10 elementary schools.

Learning English in China

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English is big business in China More than 200 million copies of the New Concept English series of school textbooks have been printed. The largest English school company, New Oriental, is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

In Beijing, it has become quite fashionable for pre-school and kindergarten children to learn English at special schools staffed by Americans, Canadians and Filipinos. Most of the students are children of fairly well-off parents, many of whom work for companies that do business with foreigners. The father of a 5-year-old boy in one of these schools told a Japanese newspaper, “I hope my son would become a public relations lawyer who can negotiate with American and European companies.”

In kindergarten kids learn their ABCs and a few simple greetings. In primary schools they focus on reading, reciting and writing the 26 letters. Many parents send their kids to out-of school English classes and often orient them towards passing Public English Test (PETs), which are divided into six levels with Level Six being the highest. Passage of a Level 2 test is often required for admission to a good middle school. The emphasis in the system is on reading and writing and students end up “mute”---unable to speak or listen very well.

Many Chinese in their 30s have fond memories of studying English using a textbooks that focused on the lives of a boy named Li Lei and a girl named Han Meimei. Found in high school books used between 1993 and 2000, Li and Han are now featured on T-shirts, schoolbags and stationary sold at bookstores. The textbooks are also associated with a period in which Chinese began to take the study of English more seriously.

The number of English words high school graduates are expected to know has increased from 1,800 in the 1980s, to 2,000 on the 1990s to 2,500 to 3,300 in 2008. By 2010 they are expected to know 3,300 to 4,000 English words. Scores in China on the standardized TOEFL exam were an average of 543 in 2000. Scores in Japan and South Korea, respectively, were 501 and 535.

Secondary Education in China

Secondary education in China has a complicated history. In the early 1960s, education planners followed a policy called "walking on two legs," which established both regular academic schools and separate technical schools for vocational training. The rapid expansion of secondary education during the Cultural Revolution created serious problems; because resources were spread too thinly, educational quality declined. Further, this expansion was limited to regular secondary schools; technical schools were closed during the Cultural Revolution because they were viewed as an attempt to provide inferior education to children of worker and peasant families. [Source: Library of Congress]

In the late 1970s, government and party representatives criticized what they termed the "unitary" approach of the 1960s, arguing that it ignored the need for two kinds of graduates: those with an academic education (college preparatory) and those with specialized technical education (vocational). Beginning in 1976 with the renewed emphasis on technical training, technical schools reopened, and their enrollments increased (as did those of key schools, also criticized during the Cultural Revolution). In the drive to spread vocational and technical education, regular secondary-school enrollments fell. [Ibid]

“By 1986 universal secondary education was part of the nine year compulsory education law that made primary education (six years) and junior-middle-school education (three years) mandatory. The desire to consolidate existing schools and to improve the quality of key middle schools was, however, under the education reform, more important than expanding enrollment. [Ibid]

The struggle to get into the best universities has led to a struggle to get into the best high schools---the schools that get their students into top university or produce students that score well on the university entrance exam. Some of the best high schools are ones associated with top universities. Students that get into these are also pretty much assured of getting into the affiliated universities as well.

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Guanghua school in Wuxi

Secondary Schools in China

Chinese secondary schools are called middle schools and are divided into junior and senior levels. In 1985 more than 104,000 middle schools (both regular and vocational) enrolled about 51 million students. Junior, or lower, middle schools offered a three year course of study, which students began at twelve years of age. Senior, or upper, middle schools offered a two or three year course, which students began at age fifteen. [Source: Library of Congress]

“The regular secondary-school year usually had two semesters, totaling nine months. In some rural areas, schools operated on a shift schedule to accommodate agricultural cycles. The academic curriculum consisted of Chinese, mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, foreign language, history, geography, politics, physiology, music, fine arts, and physical education. Some middle schools also offered vocational subjects. There were thirty or thirty-one periods a week in addition to self-study and extracurricular activity. Thirty-eight percent of the curriculum at a junior middle school was in Chinese and mathematics, 16 percent in a foreign language. Fifty percent of the teaching at a senior middle school was in natural sciences and mathematics, 30 percent in Chinese and a foreign language. [Ibid]

“Rural secondary education has undergone several transformations since 1980, when county-level administrative units closed some schools and took over certain schools run by the people's communes. In 1982 the communes were eliminated. In 1985 educational reform legislation officially placed rural secondary schools under local administration. There was a high dropout rate among rural students in general and among secondary students in particular, largely because of parental attitudes. All students, however, especially males, were encouraged to attend secondary school if it would lead to entrance to a college or university (still regarded as prestigious) and escape from village life. [Ibid]

“In China a senior-middle-school graduate is considered an educated person, although middle schools are viewed as a training ground for colleges and universities. And, while middle-school students are offered the prospect of higher education, they are also confronted with the fact that university admission is limited. Middle schools are evaluated in terms of their success in sending graduates on for higher education, although efforts persist to educate young people to take a place in society as valued and skilled members of the work force. Vocational and Technical Schools

“Keypoint” middle schools are relatively well-financed and receive the best students. Admission is often based on an entrance exam taken in the last year of elementary school. In recent years the middle school entrance exam has been officially abolished. In Shanghai there is a lottery system that spreads the best students around to different schools. Some bright students like the ordinary middle schools because they are not so competitive and time consuming and leave the students time to think for themselves and have free time.

Middle School and High School Life in China

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Middle school class
Middle schools and high schools are often located in towns far away from villages. Students from rural areas that want to attend them have to move from their family homes, live in dormitory and visit their families only on the weekends or Sundays. Often they have few friends in their hometowns and their parents treat them like little kids. For the most part their social life is focused around their school. To avoid breaking up their families, the goal of many village parents is to earn enough money or get a new job so they move to a large town or city where there children can receive a secondary education.

The dormitories in secondary schools are often packed. In rural Gansu 18 junior high schools girls share a single dormitory room, sleeping shoulder to shoulder like sardines.

Students in English class listen to a teacher read form a textbook and recite translation about various topics, including American high school drop outs. Even though students often begin studying English when they in the third grade of elementary school they generally can’t really speak the language in high school. The program is geared mainly towards preparing students for the university entrance exams. A 17-year-old student told the Los Angeles Times through an interpreter, “There’s too much focus on grammar and little on actual communication.”

High schools have been described a very familial. A group of 40 plus students often stay together and share all the same classes in their first two years and often chose their classes to stay with their friends in their third year. Life is very different than at American high schools. A Chinese Students who attended a high school in Texas told the New York Times, “American high schools are more colorful, more like real life...more complicated.”

High school is three years: The first year of high school in China is equivalent to the 10th grade in the United States. First year high school students at a top notch school study trigonometry and set theory. Second year students, the equivalent of 11th graders, study things like linear programming. The third and final year of high school is the hardest. One students told the New York Times, there is “endless homework, strict discipline, frequent exams, and per pressure.”

Vocational Schools in China

Both regular and vocational secondary schools sought to serve modernization needs. A number of technical and "skilled-worker" training schools reopened after the Cultural Revolution, and an effort was made to provide exposure to vocational subjects in general secondary schools (by offering courses in industry, services, business, and agriculture). By 1985 there were almost 3 million vocational and technical students. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Under the educational reform tenets, polytechnic colleges were to give priority to admitting secondary vocational and technical school graduates and providing on-the-job training for qualified workers. Education reformers continued to press for the conversion of about 50 percent of upper secondary education into vocational education, which traditionally had been weak in the rural areas. Regular senior middle schools were to be converted into vocational middle schools, and vocational training classes were to be established in some senior middle schools. Diversion of students from academic to technical education was intended to alleviate skill shortages and to reduce the competition for university enrollment. [Ibid]

“In 1987 there were four kinds of secondary vocational and technical schools: technical schools that offered a four year, post-junior middle course and two- to three-year post-senior middle training in such fields as commerce, legal work, fine arts, and forestry; workers' training schools that accepted students whose senior-middle-school education consisted of two years of training in such trades as carpentry and welding; vocational technical schools that accepted either junior-or senior-middle-school students for one- to three-year courses in cooking, tailoring, photography, and other services; and agricultural middle schools that offered basic subjects and agricultural science. [Ibid]

“These technical schools had several hundred different programs. Their narrow specializations had advantages in that they offered in-depth training , reducing the need for on-the-job training and thereby lowering learning time and costs. Moreover, students were more motivated to study if there were links between training and future jobs. Much of the training could be done at existing enterprises, where staff and equipment was available at little additional cost. [Ibid]

Migrant Schools in China

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migrant workers school
There are about 20 million migrant children living in Chinese cities. Many of them attend migrant schools that have often been set up by the migrant workers themselves. These schools tend to be basic but are often manned by committed, decent quality teachers. Generally they have lower fees than public schools. Some even have school buses. As of 2005, there were 293 migrant schools in Shanghai. As of 2007 there were about 200 migrant schools in Beijing with 90,000 children.

The first school for migrants to win government approval in Beijing was opened in 1993 by a teacher from a rural school who was shocked to find that many children of migrant workers were basically illiterate because their parents were too busy to help them and because they lacked residency status necessary to attend local schools.

One school was founded in some empty rooms at a market. Describing a classroom in this school Yusaku Yamame wrote in the Asahi Shimbum, “The 50-square-meter classroom with more than 80 students. Children read from their textbook in a loud voice: “A puppy, puppy runs slowly...” The teacher has difficulty even walking around the desks in the room

Shutting Down Migrant Schools, See Migrant Workers, Life

Private Schools in China

Parents are willing to spend big money to send their children to private schools with good facilities and small teacher to student ratios.

Private boarding schools like the Guangzhou Country Garden School in Canton charge a one-time tuition payment of $40,000 which is invested by the school and supposed to be returned to parents after graduation. The schools have classes for students of all ages, even preschoolers.

As China becomes wealthier more and more parents are sending their children abroad to secondary schools, which is often a more expensive endeavor than sending their kids abroad to university. A surprising number of parents shell out the $25,000 in fees to enter British boarding schools. Many are also going to schools in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, where the fees are somewhat lower. In some cases children of corrupt officials are sent abroad to help the officials launder their ill-gotten gains.

More than a thousand Chinese students attend Britain’s top boarding schools. Most arrive at A levels with the aim of getting admitted to one of Britain’s top universities.

Experimental Schools in China

David Barboza wrote in the New York Times, “While Shanghai schools are renowned for their test preparation skills, administrators here are trying to broaden the curriculums and extend more freedom to local districts. The Jing?An school, one of about 150 schools in Shanghai that took part in the international test, was created 12 years ago to raise standards in an area known for failing schools.” [Source: David Barboza, New York Times, December 29, 2010]

“Zhang Renli, creator pf the experimental school that put less emphasis on math and allows children more free time to play and experiment. The school holds a weekly talent show, for example. The five-story school building, which houses Grades eight and nine in a central district of Shanghai, is rather nondescript. Students wear rumpled school uniforms, classrooms are crowded and lunch is bused in every afternoon. But the school, which operates from 8:20 a.m. to 4 p.m. on most days, is considered one of the city’s best middle schools.” [Ibid]

A student at Jing’An, Zhou Han, 14, said she entered writing and speech-making competitions and studied the erhu, a Chinese classical instrument. She also has a math tutor. “I’m not really good at math,” she said. “At first, my parents wanted me to take it, but now I want to do it.” [Ibid]

Special Education in China

The 1985 National Conference on Education also recognized the importance of special education, in the form of programs for gifted children and for slow learners. Gifted children were allowed to skip grades. Slow learners were encouraged to reach minimum standards, although those who did not maintain the pace seldom reached the next stage. For the most part, children with severe learning problems and those with handicaps and psychological needs were the responsibilities of their families. Extra provisions were made for blind and severely hearing-impaired children, although in 1984 special schools enrolled fewer than 2 percent of all eligible children in those categories. The China Welfare Fund, established in 1984, received state funding and had the right to solicit donations within China and from abroad, but special education remained a low government priority. [Ibid]

Image Sources: Wikicommons; Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; Columbia University; Beifan.com http://www.beifan.com/; University of Washington; Bucklin archives http://www.bucklinchinaarchive.com/ ; Asia Obscura http://asiaobscura.com/ ;

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2012

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