March 27, 2004
China boys and girls

I've been reading the English version of China's 'People's' Daily. See also: China refutes US censure on human rights, and the sneer quotes to describe Taiwan 'election', which is rich coming from them, and which is why I have sneer quoted the 'People's' bit in 'People's' Daily by way of retaliation.

Anyway, according to this story, the Chinese are working their kids hard. Mere school is only the beginning of the story.

Two tough times begin when regular school ends on Friday afternoon for Xiao Di, a grade-two pupil in a primary school in Beijing's Dongcheng District.

Here is her schedule:

Sightreading and music theory on Friday evening.

Math and English on Saturday morning.

Piano on Saturday afternoon.

Dance on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday morning free? No! It is reserved for homework assigned by her teachers at her regular school.

What is all this frenetic activity in aid of? Have the children, or rather, their parents, got a problem?

Yes. Why all this frenetic activity?

"It all boils down to one word – competition,'' says Hong Chengwen, a pedagogy specialist at Beijing Normal University.

All this, especially the math and English, has something to do with preparing for junior high school in the immediate future.

But junior high is not the ultimate goal, nor is senior high, though both are vitally important stepping stones in the children's long road to getting established in a successful career.

It is university entrance, though still a long way away, that is behind all this week-end fuss today.

"A high score in the college entrance examination makes all the difference between the success and failure for a student. At least, a significant portion of the students – and their parents – think so; in spite of the fact that we educators and the educational authorities repeatedly trumpet the value of pluralistic approaches to success,'' Hong says.

The college entrance examination is a one-shot deal. You make it, you win. You don't, you lose – with not much chance of a second chance, says Hong of the harsh reality the students must face.

But do art and music have anything to do with university enrolment? Yes, they do. Universities are being given more and more power over who they may take in as students, and many of these schools are eager to recruit artistically accomplished or athletically gifted students to help boost their image at music, art and sports events organized among universities. These "special-skill students,'' as they are referred to, therefore have a better chance of getting into prestigious universities, because their artistic or athletic skills can count as part of their entrance-exam scores.

"Universities are being given more and more power over who they may take in as students …" That's an interesting little titbit, isn't it?

But, earlier in the game, some "key" junior high schools also pick for enrolment the "special-skill'' pupils and those who excel in the "killer'' math and English courses, from the primary schools.

And as if all that isn't enough …

Beyond the competition factor, many dads and mums want their children to develop in an all-around way. This helps explain why so many kids are studying dance, singing, piano, painting and so on, even though it is obvious to all that only a very small number of the children have any chance of becoming professional artists or musicians.

So, ferocious competition to get into university, and they have to be "all-rounders".

My guess would be that all this is approximately true. And isn't it interesting that this is now how the rulers of China now want the world to see them?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:35 AM
Category: ChinaExaminations and qualifications