I have been teaching in Chinese universities and middle schools for almost 4 years now as well as having observed classes at all levels in China’s educational system. So forget what you’ve read lately about China’s schools rating number one in the world, the educational system here is full of problems. Over these next few days I’ll be outlining some of the major problems with the system as well as presenting a shocking exposé of what may be the worst school in China.
I can already hear angry readers scrolling down to leave a nasty comment, so I think we should start by looking at a few things that they do very well before we look at the limits of such a system.
There are a few top schools in China that are much different from what I am describing below, but I would say that this description would be accurate for about 90+% of China’s schools. I have worked in rural schools, as well as in Chengdu (a large city in Western China) and currently am in a large City on the East coast. There are differences in the amount of content that is covered, but I would say that the method is largely the same throughout.
A typical English class with a Chinese teacher would include a list of 30-40 new vocabulary words, reading dialogues and listening to the teacher explain 4-5 new grammar patterns (this part would be in Chinese). Through most of the class the students are either reading along with the teacher, or scrawling notes in the margin of their textbooks.
I described an English class because that is what I am most familiar with, but it’s actually not too different from what a Chinese class, math class, or even art class might look like. The teacher lectures, and the students simply follow along, until they are prompted to give a correct answer.
This system excels at creating students who are capable of memorizing massive amounts of information. I was shocked to find that my students who could hardly reply to “What did you have for lunch today?” were able to recite an entire paragraph from memory after just a few minutes of looking at the text.
The same applies to mathematics, the teacher will have them memorize the steps for solving the problem, and they will be able to plug-in almost any numbers and find the correct answers. Or I’ve heard that art classes are simply making the same picture as the teacher, brush stroke by brush stroke.
The Chinese education system has changed little from the days of the Confucian exams, when students would memorize thousands of pages of text and be tested on their ability to recall specific paragraphs. So it’s not surprising that when these students sit down to a standardized test they are capable of very high scores.
This system is incredibly effective at providing a basic level of education to a massive population, but leaves little room for creativity in the Chinese classroom, which is tomorrow’s topic.