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Muslim students in the 1950s
A report by the McKinsey consulting from called China’s Looming Talent Shortage China’s education system a “stuffed duck” — one that emphasizes the regurgitation of outdated knowledge and leaves students lacking in language skills and practical experience — attributes employers are look for in a global market place. Chinese educators are increasingly looking at Western models that emphasize critical, thinking and creativity as models to follow to improve learning and education in China. It is a bit ironic while China is doing this United States is aiming to improve its education system by taking a more test-centered, math-focused approach like that used in Asia.

According to the Wall Street Journal: “China’s education system is notorious for its focus on rote memorization and intense competition. Well-off families often enroll their kids in tutoring programs to try to give them an edge against their peers. Competition for getting into good schools, from elementary to college levels, is fierce. The biggest culprit of stress for China’s youth—the gaokao, or college-entrance exam—has long been the subject of critique. For many students, doing well on this exam is considered a ticket to a better future, as colleges judge applicants based solely on their scores. Chinese students get a single shot at the test, which is administered once a year. Score results can be a big fanfare for entire families, who pin their hopes on what are for many their only son or daughter. [Source: Chao Deng, China Real Time blog, Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2014]

In a critique of education in China in January 2011, former premier Zhu, Rongji wrote: "What happened to our compulsory education? Many [rural] students have dropped out of school and gone to work in cities.” He criticized education policy goals as "full of empty talk” but refrained from elaborating. "If you don't devote great efforts to civic education, many problems will arise. Now many people [in China] are interested only in personal gain," Zhu said. [Source: Wu Zhong, China Editor, Asia Times, June 22, 2011]

The New York Times reported in 2014: “China has ordered a national investigation into the use of antiviral drugs in Chinese schools, amid several cases of administrators administering the drugs to students without their parents’ knowledge or permission in an effort to improve attendance. Those cases touched off protests and accusations that the schools were putting revenues, which would be hurt by student absences, over safety. [Source: Austin Ramzy, Sinosphere blog, New York Times, March 21, 2014]

Too Much Emphasis on Tests in Chinese Education

Yong Zhao, a professor of education at the University of Oregon, told New York Times: The Chinese education system "basically ignores children’s uniqueness, interests and passion, which results in homogenization. It forces them to spend almost all the time preparing for tests, leaving little time for social and physical activities. It also places them under tremendous stress through intense competition, which can damage their confidence and lowers their self-esteem.” The Chinese education system “is best in test scores, but test scores are far from meaningful educational outcomes. In fact, excessive focus on test scores hinders a real education, which is more about helping each and every child grow rather than forcing them to achieve high test scores. In other words, PISA and other tests measure something very different from the quality of education Chinese parents, educators and children desire. The government prescribes a curriculum, makes schools and teachers teach the curriculum, forces (or lures) students to master the curriculum, and monitors students’ progress with standardized testing. It starts as early as school begins. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, September 14, 2014]

Mark Kitto wrote in Prospect Magazine, “The domestic Chinese lower education system does not educate. It is a test centre. The curriculum is designed to teach children how to pass them. In rural China, where we have lived for seven years, it is also an elevation system. Success in exams offers a passport to a better life in the big city. Schools do not produce well-rounded, sociable, self-reliant young people with inquiring minds. They produce winners and losers. Winners go on to college or university to take “business studies.” Losers go back to the farm or the local factory their parents were hoping they could escape. [Source: Mark Kitto, Prospect Magazine, August 8, 2012]

There is little if any sport or extracurricular activity. Sporty children are extracted and sent to special schools to learn how to win Olympic gold medals. Musically gifted children are rammed into the conservatories and have all enthusiasm and joy in their talent drilled out of them. (My wife was one of the latter.) And then there is the propaganda. Our daughter’s very first day at school was spent watching a movie called, roughly, “How the Chinese people, under the firm and correct leadership of the Party and with the help of the heroic People’s Liberation Army, successfully defeated the Beichuan Earthquake.” Moral guidance is provided by mythical heroes from communist China’s recent past, such as Lei Feng, the selfless soldier who achieved more in his short lifetime than humanly possible, and managed to write it all down in a diary that was miraculously “discovered” on his death.

The pressure makes children sick. I speak from personal experience. To score under 95 per cent is considered failure. Bad performance is punished. Homework, which consists mostly of practice test papers, takes up at least one day of every weekend. Many children go to school to do it in the classroom. I have seen them trooping in at 6am on Sundays. In the holidays they attend special schools for extra tuition, and must do their own school’s homework for at least a couple of hours every day to complete it before term starts again.

High Drop Out Rates and School Weariness in China

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students playing basketball
A study released in May 2010 by the Institute of Rural Education at Northeast Normal University, found that the dropout rate in some rural areas was as high as 40 percent (although official Ministry of Education estimates are 5 percent in urban areas and 11 percent in rural areas). The survey of 17 junior high schools in 14 counties in six provinces and found that even in relatively prosperous areas, the dropout rate could sometimes hit 40 percent. [Source: : Mitch Moxley, Asian Times, July 2010]

The report attributed the high drop out rate to “school weariness” — fatigue and disinterest caused by rote learning and cramming. Tao Hongkai, a sociology professor at Central China Normal University, told the Asian Times, “Examination-oriented education imposes too much pressure on students,” Tao, who has decades of experience in high school education in the United States, directs the university's quality education research center. “Students feel some courses are difficult to learn, and the knowledge they grasp isn't useful in real life. They lose interest, which leads to dropouts.”

A 2009 survey found that 50.4 percent of high school students suffered from school weariness in China, which education experts blamed on existing education methods, notably the cramming method of teaching and the intense focus on exam scores. In his blog, Guo Zaoyang, a teacher at Huangchuan Middle School in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, wrote: “Examination-oriented education opens the doors to hell. The teaching methods teachers use are the cramming method, spoon feeding method...Students memorize and examination scores are closely related to how much time has been spent on the course. China's schools teach their students nothing, what these schools are best at is making students lose interest and hate their studies.” With an emphasis on test scores, students are sometimes discouraged from writing exams entirely, lest they bring down a class' average score. In one case, Xiao Zhen, a sixth grade student in Shaanxi province in northwest China, was banned by his teachers from taking exams for an entire year because of his poor study skills, according to China Business View magazine.

Teen Suicides in China Linked Cutthroat School System

In May 2014, China’s state media published research that places much of the blame for teen suicideon the country’s cutthroat test-oriented education system. The Wall Street Journal reported: “Suicide has been an increasing problem in China, with state media calling it the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 34. The government has said in the past that roughly a quarter of a million people commit suicide every year in China, with particularly high rates in rural areas, although it doesn’t break out specific numbers for teens. [Source: Chao Deng, China Real Time blog, Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2014]

“In a new blue book published by Chinese nonprofit organization 21st Century Education Research Institute, researchers closely examined 79 elementary and middle school suicide cases from 2013 and found that almost all—92 percent—occurred after a teen had endured stress associated with school, in some cases an argument with a teacher, according to China Daily . Some 63 percent occurred in the latter half of the school year, when students usually experience more stress due to high school and college entrance exams.

“The study’s examples included a middle school student from Inner Mongolia who jumped off a building after learning that his test scores had dropped; a 13-year-old boy from Jiangsu province who hanged himself after failing to finish his homework; and a girl from Sichuan province who cut her wrists and took poison upon learning the results of her college-entrance exam.

“Despite the obvious need for hotlines and other psychological help to prevent suicides, the country provides few outlets for troubled youth. Wan Yanjie, an organizer at the Life Education & Crisis Intervention Centre, the first nonprofit to launch a 24-hour suicide hotline in Shanghai, says the number of calls the center receives from teenagers is still low, in part because of a lack of marketing for such intervention services at schools. Most of the calls the center fields now have to do with burdens from work and marriage, she said.

“The China Daily report didn’t offer any suggestions to alleviate the situation for youth, but it quoted Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, as saying that students, teachers and parents need to communicate more. But while “more parents and teachers are understanding what their children feel” and “more schools have an in-house psychologist, the traditional education system forces [parents and teachers] to emphasize performance and discipline, with a focus on children’s future, instead of looking from the children’s perspective,” Ms. Wan said.

Poor Education in Rural Areas

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian,”Education has always been the great hope for China's poor. Villagers have built schools themselves to improve their children's opportunities. But rural scholars lag behind their peers from the start. Experts say the disparity between rural and urban educational standards is one reason why the proportion of rural students in universities — particularly the top ones — is falling rapidly. According to Chinese media , pupils from the countryside made up 62 percent of those sitting national college entrance exams last year, but only 17 percent of those entering the elite Tsinghua University. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, October 2, 2011]

Describing a typical underprivileged student Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “Zhao Ai's father died in a mudslide; his mother is a migrant labourer hundreds of miles away. He is one of China's 50 million "left behind" children, raised by grandparents because the hukou system makes family migration difficult. They have inferior educational results and more behavioural problems than the average child. Relatives can be unable or unwilling to care for them properly; sometimes, they are carers for sick and ageing grandparents. With few adults around, they must help with household chores and farming before they can turn to homework.

Zhao Ai is lucky; his family make up in warmth what they lack in income. But he is an anxious child, noticeably quieter than his boisterous schoolmates. He struggles on the steep climb back home, a punishing scramble through woods and fields, on an empty stomach.

Education officials want to build a boarding school and have even found a company willing to donate 400,000 yuan (about £40,000) — but would need three times that to pipe water to the site. So for the foreseeable future, Zhao Ai and his friends are stuck with their long journeys and school days in an ageing, cracking building with no running water or heating. Finding suitable staff is hard because few young graduates want to live somewhere so remote. English is compulsory, but Ruiyuan has nobody capable of teaching it.

Education Gap in China

In terms of educational attainment there are huge discrepancies between urban and rural areas and within urban areas. Helen Gao wrote in the New York Times: “While China has phenomenally expanded basic education for its people, quadrupling its output of college graduates in the past decade, it has also created a system that discriminates against its less wealthy and poorly connected citizens, thwarting social mobility at every step with bureaucratic and financial barriers. A huge gap in educational opportunities between students from rural areas and those from cities is one of the main culprits. Some 60 million students in rural schools are “left-behind” children, cared for by their grandparents as their parents seek work in faraway cities. While many of their urban peers attend schools equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and well-trained teachers, rural students often huddle in decrepit school buildings and struggle to grasp advanced subjects such as English and chemistry amid a dearth of qualified instructors. [Source: Helen Gao, New York Times, September 4, 2014]

“For migrant children who follow their parents to cities, the opportunity for a decent education is similarly limited, as various government policies foil their attempts at full integration. The hukou system — residency status that ties access to subsidized social services to one’s hometown — denies rural children the right to enter urban public schools. Many migrant children are relegated to private schools that charge higher tuition and offer subpar education. Recent reforms have only had tangential impact on leveling the playing field, and are mostly limited to smaller cities. In large metropolises like Beijing, new policies seem intended less to promote educational equity than to exacerbate the discrimination. Most migrants have no choice but to send their children back to their rural hometowns.

“China requires the vast majority of students to take the national college entrance examination in their home province, and elite universities allocate higher admission quotas to first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai. One researcher showed that an applicant from Beijing is 41 times more likely to be admitted to Peking University as a fellow student from the poor and largely rural province of Anhui.

“Even an urban residency status doesn’t ensure educational equity among city dwellers. The quality of urban schools varies widely, and the competition to enter top schools has spawned rampant corruption. Parents fork out tens of thousands of dollars under the guise of “voluntary donations” to secure a slot for their children in elite elementary schools. At top-ranked high schools, such as the one I attended in Beijing, these charges can reach $130,000. Further advantage can be purchased by parents who can pay handsomely to hire teachers to offer extra tutoring to their children, a practice discouraged by the authorities but widespread in reality.

“To curb the culture of graft, Beijing has implemented policies this year that require students to attend elementary schools in their home districts. But the new rules, instead of stopping parents from gaming the system, simply channeled the cash to another market. Property in well-regarded school districts became Beijing’s hottest commodity this spring. Families have been tripping over one another to trade spacious homes in posh compounds for dilapidated flats next to prestigious elementary schools. In a sought-after neighborhood in the Xicheng district, for example, a 107-square-foot flat was listed for $550,000.

“Chinese education, having always placed enormous emphasis on test scores, is now becoming a game of another set of numbers. When graduating high school students walk into test centers to take the most important exam in their life, their chances are determined not only by a decade of assiduous study, but also by the costs of their cramming lessons, the years their parents have toiled in cities in exchange for an urban residency permit, and the admission quotas universities allot to the provinces. The system that has functioned as the chief engine for mobility since ancient times now serves to reinforce entrenched social exclusion.

“My mother, who attended Peking University in the late 1970s, remembered being surrounded by classmates of all walks of life — from the heirs of party officials and the scions of intellectuals, to workers fresh out of factories and peasants hailing from far-flung provinces. In the decades that followed, the economic opening that has led to vast wealth, along with extreme income inequality, has all but obliterated such diversity in the top tier of Chinese education.

Sale of School Files in China

Everyone in China who has been to high school has a file — a sealed Manila envelope stamped top secret, containing grades, test results, evaluations by fellow students and teachers, and if they have one a Communist Party application and proof of a college degree. Sharon Lafraniere wrote in New York Times, “The files are irreplaceable histories of achievement and failure, the starting point for potential employers, government officials and others judging an individual’s worth. Often keys to the future, they are locked tight in government, school or workplace cabinets to eliminate any chance they might vanish. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, July 26, 2009]

But that is exactly what happened to Xue Longlong and 10 others, all 2006 college graduates with exemplary records, all from poor families living The files are crucial for getting any kind of good job. Heaven forbid if they ever get lost .in Wubu, a gritty north-central town on the wide banks of the Yellow River. With the Manila folders went their futures, they say. “Local officials said the files were lost when state workers moved them from the first to the second floor of a government building,” Lafraniere wrote. “But the graduates say they believe officials stole the files and sold them to underachievers seeking new identities and better job prospects — a claim bolstered by a string of similar cases across China. When the central government talks about the economy and development, it sounds so great, said Wang, the day laborer. But at the local level, corrupt officials make all their money off of local people.” [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, July 26, 2009]

“Student files are a proven moneymaker for corrupt state workers. Four years ago, teachers in Jilin Province were caught selling two students’ files for $2,500 and $3,600; the police suspected that they intended to sell a dozen more. In May, the former head of a township government in Hunan Province admitted that he had paid more than $7,000 to steal the identity of a classmate of his daughter, so his daughter could attend college using the classmate’s records.”

In September 2007, when one Wubu graduate sought work at a local bank and discovered that his file was gone, word spread fast. For the next two years, his parents and a group of other parents in similar straits said, they sought help at every level of the bureaucracy. The government’s answer, they said, was to reject any inquiry, place the graduates’ parents under police surveillance and repeatedly detain them. Last February, they said, five parents trying to petition the national government were locked in an unofficial jail in Beijing for nine days. “We are so exhausted, said one tearful mother, Song Heping. Our nerves are about to snap from this torture. The officials who were responsible not only have not been punished, they have been promoted....One Chinese television journalist said the official told him they had resolved the matter simply by creating new folders. But families say the folders held nothing but brief, error-riddled résumés that employers reflexively reject as fake.”

“The parents are uniformly poor: one father drives a three-wheel taxi, earning just 15 cents per passenger. Xue’s parents sacrificed even more than most, in the belief that education would lead their children out of poverty. They earn just $450 a year growing dates, and live near a dirt mountain path, drinking well water and cooking over a wood fire.” “Mr Xue, the oldest child, wore secondhand clothes and skipped meals throughout high school. When he won admission to a university in Xian, 400 miles away, his parents borrowed to cover the $1,500 in annual expenses. Initially, it seemed the bet would pay off: he said he had had a chance to work at an oil company with a monthly salary of $735.” But the job evaporated with his dangan. It was a catastrophe, he said. Now he earns a base salary of $90 a month as a door-to-door salesman and lives in a tiny, dingy room in a Xian slum. The woman he hoped to marry left him because her parents said he would never have a stable job. His mother suffered a nervous breakdown, and the family debt ballooned. His father, Xue Ruzhan, said he owed more than $10,000 — more than twice what his property is worth.”

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Cultural Revolution textbook

Bribery in Chinese Schools

Schools routinely solicit off-the-book donations for books, uniforms and lunches. Teachers who teach classes in subjects heavily weighted on entrance exams can solicit large bribes. One education official told the Los Angeles Times, “If there are 50 students and 40 give gifts, you definitely don’t try very hard with the other 10. Unfortunately, that’s our system.”

Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times: “Nearly everything has a price, parents and educators say, from school admissions and placement in top classes to leadership positions in Communist youth groups. Even front-row seats near the blackboard or a post as class monitor are up for sale. Zhao Hua, a migrant from Hebei Province who owns a small electronics business here, said she was forced to deposit $4,800 into a bank account to enroll her daughter in a Beijing elementary school. At the bank, she said, she was stunned to encounter officials from the district education committee armed with a list of students and how much each family had to pay. Later, school officials made her sign a document saying the fee was a voluntary “donation.” “Of course I knew it was illegal,” she said. “But if you don’t pay, your child will go nowhere.” The lack of integrity among educators and school administrators is especially dispiriting, said Li Mao, an educational consultant in Beijing. “It’s much more upsetting when it happens with teachers because our expectations of them are so much higher,” he said. [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, November 21, 2012]

“But critics say China’s state-run education system — promoted as the hallmark of Communist meritocracy — is being overrun by bribery and cronyism. Such corruption has broadened the gulf between the haves and have-nots as Chinese families see their hopes for the future sold to the highest bidder. “Corruption is pervasive in every part of Chinese society, and education is no exception,” Mr. Li said.

“Government officials have also found a way to game the system. The 21st Century Business Herald, a state-run newspaper, reported that powerful agencies and state-owned enterprises frequently donated to top schools under what is known as a “joint development” policy. In exchange, education reformers say, the children of their employees are given an admissions advantage. The same practice has been taken up by private companies that provide “corporate sponsorships” to top schools.

“Some parents have found that the only way to preserve any integrity is to reject a Chinese education altogether. Disgusted by the endemic bribery, Wang Ping, 37, a bar owner in Beijing, decided to send her son abroad for his education. In August, she wept as she waved goodbye to her only child, whom she had enrolled at a public high school in Iowa. “China’s education system is unfair to children from the very beginning of their lives,” she said. “I don’t want my son to have anything more to do with it.”

How Bribery System Works in Chinese Education

Dan Levin wrote in the New York Times: Bribery in Chinese education “begins even before the first day of school as the competition for admission to elite schools has created a lucrative side business for school officials and those connected to them. Each spring, the Clean China Kindergarten, which is affiliated with the prestigious Tsinghua University and situated on its manicured campus in Beijing, receives a flood of requests from parents who see enrollment there as a conduit into one of China’s best universities. Officially, the school is open only to children of Tsinghua faculty. But for the right price — about 150,000 renminbi, or about $24,000, according to a staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation — a Tsinghua professor can be persuaded to “sponsor” an applicant. [Source: Dan Levin, New York Times, November 21, 2012]

Parents with less direct connections have to bribe a chain of people for their child to be admitted to the kindergarten. “The more removed you are from the school, the more money you need,” the staff member said. “It can really add up.” A school official denied that outsiders could pay their way in. The costs can increase as college gets closer. Chinese news media reported recently that the going bribery rate for admission to a high school linked to the renowned Renmin University in Beijing is $80,000 to $130,000.

“In China, education through junior high school is mandatory, and free, but the reality is often more complicated. As a child grows up, parents lacking connections must pay repeatedly for better educational opportunities. Across the country, such payments take the form of “school choice” fees that open the door to schools outside the district or town listed on a family’s official residency permit.

“These illegal fees are especially onerous for the millions of struggling migrant workers who have moved to distant cites. The Ministry of Education and the State Council, China’s cabinet, have officially banned “school choice” and other unregulated fees five times since 2005, yet school officials and relevant government departments keep finding creative ways around the ban, allowing them to keep the cash flowing.

“At some top-ranked high schools, students with low admission test scores can “buy” a few crucial points that put them over the threshold for admission. According to an unwritten but widely known policy at one elite Beijing high school, students receive an extra point for each $4,800 their parents contribute to the school. “All my classmates know about it,” said Polly Wang, 15, a student who asked that the school not be named to avoid repercussion.

“Surrounded by a culture where cash is king, teachers often find their own ways to make up for their dismal salaries. Qin Liwen, a journalist who writes about education, said that some instructors run cram schools on the side and encourage attendance by failing to teach their students a vital chunk of the curriculum during the school day. “Why do something for free when everyone is paying you?” Ms. Qin said. Faced with the prospect of their child’s missing critical material or incurring the teacher’s wrath, many parents feel compelled to pay for these extra courses, she said.

“The culture of brown-nosing becomes a costly competition during Teacher Appreciation Day, a national holiday in September, when students of all ages are expected to bring gifts. Gone are the days when a floral bouquet or fruit basket would suffice. According to reports in the Chinese news media, many teachers now expect to be given designer watches, expensive teas, gift cards and even vacations. In Inner Mongolia, some parents said, more assertive teachers welcome debit cards attached to bank accounts that can be replenished throughout the year. The value of such gifts, the newspaper Shanghai Daily estimated, has grown 50 times from a decade ago. “It’s a vicious cycle,” said Ms. Zhao, the owner of the Beijing electronics business and parent of a 10-year-old girl. “If you don’t give a nice present and the other parents do, you’re afraid the teacher will pay less attention to your kid.”

“Poor students are the most vulnerable in this culture of bribery. Bao Hong, 33, a maid in Beijing, used to think her 7-year-old daughter, Rui, was having a tough time at school because she was reared in the countryside by her grandparents. Ms. Bao now blames her teachers. Last year, she said, a teacher slapped her daughter and called her “stupid.” In the spring, the teacher stopped grading Rui’s homework and then skipped a mandatory home visit. “My daughter’s discriminated against because we don’t make much money,” Ms. Bao said, standing outside the room she rents with her husband, a street cleaner.

Fall Out of Not Going Along with the Bribery System in Chinese Education

Describing how the education system works in Foshan, city in Guangdong Province, one mother told the Los Angeles Times that when her son was ready for primary school she was worried about him getting in so she found a friend who knew a senior local education official. The mother visited the official’s office, left about $70 on his desk, didn’t say much, and left. Her son was accepted. When it came time for her son to enter middle school she had to work harder because her son didn’t do so well on his entrance exams. Friends of hers were enticed wine and dine key officials and pave the way for distributing $1,200 among education officials and make a $1,600 “donation” to the school he son won admission to. When it was time to enter high school, she spent thousands of dollars in an attempt to get him into a first-rate school but ultimately failed and had to settle for a less prestigious school.

Liao Mengjun, a 15-year-old middle school student in Foshan, was found dead with his forehead bashed in, his right knee bones jutting through his skins, two broken arms, stab wounds and internal injuries, His index finger had been slashed in what may have been an attempt to get him to write something in his own blood. His parents think his killers were his teachers who were upset by the parents’ public complaints about unauthorized fees and systematic corruption in schools. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, January 2009]

Liao Mengjun’s father, Liao Zusheng, a former soldier and Communist Party official, drew the ire of his son’s school, Huangqi Middle School, after he spoke out against the school for trying to collect a $3,000 “selection fee” the school tried to collect without a receipt. He also posted several essay on the Internet that complained about corruption and fraud in China as a whole.

The school said Mengjun was caught stealing, attacked his teacher and committed suicide. His parents did their own investigation and determined that a dean at the school, two teachers and school guards beat up their son. They worked tirelessly and were able to gain access to their son’s autopsy report and gather testimonies of witnesses before they were intimidated by police. When they began pursuing the issue they were offered $20,000 by local officials to keep quiet and then that sum was jacked up to $50,000 and then $70,000 when they refused and continued push forward for justice.

Replacing Tibetan and Mongolian Language with Chinese at Tibetan and Mongolian Schools

Chinese has displaced Tibetan as the main teaching medium in schools despite the existence of laws aimed at preserving the languages of minorities. Young Tibetan children used to have most of their classes taught in Tibetan. They began studying Chinese in the third grade. When they reached middle school, Chinese becomes the main language of instruction. An experimental high school where the classes were taught in Tibetan was closed down. In schools that are technically bilingual, the only classes entirely taught in Tibetan were Tibetan language classes. These schools have largely disappeared.

A policy announced on August 2020 ahead of the start of the new school year, required schools to use new national textbooks in Chinese, replacing Mongolian-language textbooks. Associated Press reported: In 2017, the ruling Communist Party created a committee to overhaul textbooks for the entire country. Revised textbooks have been pushed out over the last few years. The new policy for Inner Mongolia, affects schools where Mongolian has been the principal language of instruction. [Source: Huizhong Wu, Associated Press, September 2, 2020]

Improving the Chinese Education System

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: The education system in China is complex and flawed. “In its present form, schools have no choice but to emphasise discipline. Teachers have anything from 60 to 100 pupils per class. The only way to break the cycle would be to build more schools and provide more teachers. Luo Chongmin, a senior schools inspector for the whole of China, says that with a population so vast and with class sizes so huge, discipline must be a priority. By reaching into its past for the disciplinarian teachings of Confucius, China has a readymade model for classroom authoritarianism. But discipline is fostered, Luo says, at a terrifying cost: ‘‘Because our education system demands obedience, either consciously or unconsciously, we are allowing it to become a form of enslavement. Children are kept on a leash by their schools, teachers and parents. This makes them servile and bereft of independent thought. Children don’t understand life, they don’t cherish life, they only know how to obey.’’ [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, December 20, 2013]

On ways to improve the Chinese Education System, Yong Zhao, the professor of education at the University of Oregon, told New York Times: I think the hope lies with a thoughtful and rational reflection of the traditional values and the current social order. It needs the people and leaders to consider different pathways, different voices and different values without automatically assuming evil intentions in dissenting opinions. But that is very difficult as the history of China’s modernization shows, which is discussed in the book. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, September 14, 2014]

On why efforts to change the system, to “kill the witch of testing,” continually fail, Zhou said: There are many reasons, but primarily it is the authoritarian spirit that has put people in a “prisoner’s game.” Mei banfa ["there's nothing to be done"] is a very common phrase I hear from my friends and colleagues in China when talking about why they allow their children to do certain things counter to their better judgment. I hear the same from policy makers and educators. They know what’s good for children, but they felt they are unable to change or if they take the first step to change, they will be punished because others won’t change. The education we need is actually quite simply “follow the child.” We need an education that enhances individual strengths, follows children’s passions and fosters their social-emotional development. We do not need an authoritarian education that aims to fix children’s deficits according to externally prescribed standards.

Image Sources: Landsberger Posters ; Columbia University University of Washington; Ohio State University, Wiki Commons, Asia Obscura ;

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.

Last updated August 2022

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