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Category Archive • China
January 10, 2005
Coffee and sex education

I googled for "education uk", but for some reason got to this excellent piece about sex education in China:

With prints of paintings by Picasso, Dali and Delvaux donning the walls, the cafe looks no different from others in Shenzhen, the booming southern Chinese city, except its name, Sex Cafe, which draws many curious young men to take a look inside, albeit blushing a little and tentative.

"The cafe is awesome," said a youngster surnamed Yu, who was surprised to find he could borrow books related to sex and surf Internet connections which provide addresses of websites giving advice on sexual health.

"Our service is to bring convenience for customers by combining sex education, sex counselling and free condoms into a one-stop shopping experience," said Tao Lin, director of the city's family planning centre, whose idea it was to turn the original sex education centre into a cafe.

"Backed by the local government, the cafe isn't run for profit, but for the social benefits of local residents," Tao was quoted as saying by China Daily.

Although China is opening up very quickly and perceptions are changing very fast, buying condoms and asking for help on sex issues remain embarrassing to many people.

"But a sex education cafe could make a difference," said Tao. "People won't feel embarrassed to come here in the name of grabbing a cup of coffee."

Interesting in all sorts of ways.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:03 PM
Category: China
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July 21, 2004
Education as punishment

Here is a reminder that sometimes "education" isn't quite as nice as it sounds:

JiangYanyong.jpg

The Chinese military surgeon who exposed the government's cover-up of the Sars crisis was released yesterday after seven weeks of "political re-education", his family said.

Jiang Yanyong, 72, a semi-retired general in the People's Liberation Army, had been detained at a secret location where he was forced to undergo daily study sessions aimed to make him renounce a critical letter he had written about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

I wonder exactly what lesson this man chose to learn from this dose of education, although maybe "detention" would be a better word for what he endured.

The lesson they were trying to teach him was don't make trouble.

A lot of the educational news concerning China is now quite good. This story is a salutary reminder that not all of it is.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:33 PM
Category: ChinaCompulsionPolitics
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June 07, 2004
Cheating in China

Hello. It sounds as if they're having problems with exam cheating in China.

I always interpret announcements that they're going to jolly well do something about stopping whatever it is as the proof that whatever it is is happening but not necessarily that whatever it is will be stopped.

So this tells me something, but not what Vice Minister of Education Yan Guiren wants to tell me:

Vice Minister of Education Yuan Guiren on Saturday pledged that great efforts would be made to prevent any kinds of fraudulent practices in coming university entrance examination, which will be held from June 7 to 9.

Yuan said this year saw the largest number of university entrance examinees since the exam was resumed in 1977 after the 10-year-long "Cultural Revolution". All relevant departments must strengthen exam discipline and resolutely crack down on any forms of exam corruption.

He pledged that severe punishment will be imposed on three types of exam cheating, including finding scapegoat to attend exam, sending exam-related tips by telecommunication devices and group fraudulent practice in exam.

Chinglish, is that called? It takes a bit of decyphering, but I believe I managed.

"Nowadays, exam cheating means are modern and advanced. Once the examination papers are divulged in one place, it will soon spread widely. Therefore, examination paper must be carefully guarded," he continued.

So, Chinese students are at least getting the hang of all this modern and advanced gizmology then.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:58 PM
Category: ChinaExaminations and qualifications
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May 22, 2004
"Over 700,000 Chinese have furthered their studies in foreign countries …"

From Chinaview.com:

BEIJING, May 22 (Xinhuanet) – Over 700,000 Chinese have furthered their studies in foreign countries since China implemented its reform and opening up policy in 1978, and the number keeps increasing, according to Cao Guoxing, an official of the Ministry of Education.

Cao said 170,000 students have found jobs in China after they finished their studies, 350,000 are still studying or doing research abroad and the rest chose to work in foreign countries.

The Ministry of Education has worked hard to bring back the overseas Chinese students. By the end of 2003, 77 percent of the presidents and 80 percent of academicians in the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering have an overseas education background, Cao said.

I have no clear idea of what the consequences of all this will be, but it is a safe bet that there will be consequences, for China and for the rest of us.

Here's how the story ends:

Statistics of the Beijing municipal bureau of personnel show that around 50,000 students chose to work in Beijing after finishing their studies abroad, who have created over 3,800 enterprises of new and high technology.

And that, I surmise, is only the beginning of the story.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:05 PM
Category: China
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May 05, 2004
Dulwich in China

More news, this time from timesonline (David Carr – thanks for the email), about British educational institutions doing business in Asia:

ELITE British schools are setting up in China to feed a growing appetite for public school education as expectations grow that a ban on foreigners and Chinese studying together will be lifted.

Making the running is Dulwich College International School in Shanghai, which will be the first of four schools that the 400-year-old institution is setting up in China.

The South London school, which already has an international school at Phuket in Thailand, is not alone in looking eastwards for future growth. Harrow and Shrewsbury have schools in Bangkok.

At Dulwich in Shanghai, students will wear a formal uniform of shirt, tie and jacket, with grey slacks, raising the prospect of blazers and school ties on Shanghai’s promenade, the Bund, for the first time since the Second World War.

More Dulwich stuff, from me, here, here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:03 AM
Category: ChinaThe private sector
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April 21, 2004
China gets an Australian education

The Chinese continue to develop their connections with the educational Anglosphere. Says People's Daily:

The Chinese Ministry of Education has signed an agreement with the IDP Education Australia to collaborate on a number of programs.

The programs include holding university preparatory courses in China approved by 38 Australian universities, and establishing joint courses between the two countries. The plan will help Chinese college students transfer to Australian universities for further study.

Meanwhile, both sides are cooperating to develop training courses and projects for Chinese government employees and company managers.

I know, I know, it's all very clumsy and government-to-government. And the link to Australia is somewhat comical. But I think this stuff is interesting. What the enormous numbers of Chinese students now studying abroad or being educated in China by foreigners get up to in their lives is going to be one of the world's great stories, however it plays out, of the next fifty years.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:03 PM
Category: ChinaHigher education
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March 30, 2004
How India thinks and what India learns

There is a fascinating article by Cherryl Barron in the latest Prospect (April 2004 – paper only so far as I can work out) about the reasons for the Indian computer software miracle.

The emergence of India as a software superpower is still generally attributed to the cheapness of its programmers and software engineers. But the underlying reasons are more complex and interesting, lying in the subcontinent's intellectual and pedagogical traditions.

Software is ubiquitous. It is at the core of processes in every strategic industry, from banking to defence. And the depth of India's advantage in software suggests that it poses a bigger challenge to the western economies than even China. China, strong in manufacturing and computer hardware, has been almost as unimpressive in software as Japan. Indeed, no developing country has ever taken on the developed world in a craft as sophisticated and important as software.

Indian software aptitude rests on both the emphasis on learning by rote in Indian schools, and a facility and reverence for abstract thought. These biases of Indian education are usually considered mutually exclusive in the west, where a capacity for abstraction is associated with creativity. In India, learning by rote is seen by most conventional teachers as essential grounding for speculation.

An educational tradition that spans learning by heart and exalting excellence in higher mathematics is just right for software. It fits the mentality of computers. These are, after all, machines so fastidious as to refuse to send email with a missing hyphen or full stop in an address. Yet no product on earth is as abstract, boundlessly complex and flexible as software. It cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched and is, to borrow Nabokov's description of chess – a game invented in India – a "spectral art."

India's software accomplishments reflect those extremes. Indian firms dominate a world elite of over 120 companies recognised for producing outstandingly accurate software, those which have earned a CMM Level-6 tag, software's equivalent of the Michelin 3-star rating. These establishments – of which America has less than half the Indian total—are certified to be following an exacting, detail-ridden methodology developed at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh for producing reliable code.

At the other pole of cyber-sophistication, most of the reigning US technology giants – Microsoft, General Electric, Texas Instruments, Intel, Oracle and Sun Microsystems – have established software design and development facilities and even R&D laboratories in India to take advantage of the world-class brains produced by the Indian institutes of technology, willing to work for an eighth of the starting salary of their US counterparts.

This next bit also alludes, perhaps without intending to, to what used to be wrong with people educated in India.

Western programmers' view of their craft tends to stress its more rarefied dimensions, such as this description by the US computer scientist Frederick Brooks: "The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible ... so readily capable of realising grand conceptual structures."

Yet "pure thought-stuff" is also an encapsulation of ancient India's contributions to the world's scientific heritage. In about 600 BC, before the Greeks, some schools of physics in India developed atomic theories, based not on experiment but purely on intuition and logic. Some western physicists marvel at how much closer the imaginative speculations of Brahmin atomic theory have come to current ideas in theoretical physics than those of any other pre-modern civilisation.

"The Indians advanced astronomy by mathematics rather than by deductions elicited from nature," the science writer Dick Teresi has noted in Lost Discoveries. Indian mathematics was also distinctively airy-fairy. Whereas Greek mathematics was largely extrapolated from mensuration and geometry, the ancient Indians most distinguished themselves in abstract number theory. Zero, infinity, negative and irrational numbers – all concepts that the Greeks dismissed as ludicrous – were Indian concepts.

Airy-fairy. "Pure-thought-stuff." Yes, that sums up the cliché stereotype Indian university graduate of my (older) generation. Very big on abstraction, can talk the hind leg off a donkey, but no bloody use for anything except becoming a bureaucrat and driving the Indian economy – what little there used to be of it – ever deeper into the dust.

Spatial extension and quantities of objects were far less interesting to pioneering Indian mathematical minds. In fact, the Indian leaning towards abstraction – so deep-seated that theoretical physicists and mathematicians still outrank every other sort of egghead in status – explains India's relatively poor showing, historically, in more practical sciences. The sinologist Joseph Needham observed that more practical study would have entailed defying Indian caste rules about contact between Brahmins and artisans. Similarly, the progress of ancient Indian knowledge of physiology, biology and anatomy was held back by the taboo on contact with dead bodies.

All of this brings to mind a remark by Peter Drucker from long ago to the effect that computers have provided something never before seen in the world, namely: paying jobs for mathematicians.

Could it be that the way that computers have enticed all these airy-fairies and pure-thought-stuffers away from being government bureaucrats will turn out to be their most important beneficial contribution to the Indian economy? Yes, these people are doing splendid things with their computers, but think of all the abysmal things they used to do and might still be doing instead, were it not for computers.

I can confirm the excellence of Indians at maths with one extremely anecdotal anecdote. By far the cleverest attender (way ahead of me) of those Kumon maths sessions I occasionally mention here was an Indian boy of about eleven or twelve. (One of the "slumbering giant" glories of Kumon is that it enables Kumon instructors to accept and help to educate pupils who are cleverer than they are. I think this is the single most impressive thing about Kumon. Think about that. But I digress.)

Barron ends as she began, by contrasting India with China:

It was the supreme pragmatists, the Chinese – whose intellectual traditions favoured practicality and action over airy speculation – who were the technological geniuses of antiquity. They invented paper, seismographs, the magnetic compass, the wheelbarrow, irrigation, ink and porcelain. But reasoning for its own sake was of so little interest to them that, unlike the Greeks and Indians, they never developed any system of formal logic. It hardly seems accidental that it is through the manufacture of physical objects that China is making its mark today, while India floats on the ethereal plane of software.

As regulars here will know, I have been trying recently to liven up this blog with pictures. And I think it says something about the priorities of Indian civilisation just now that when I typed "India" and "Mathematics" into Google, the pictures were all either terrible or irrelevant. How do you illustrate an ethereal plane? Just an Indian guy in front of a blackboard covered in mathematical symbols would have done nicely, but I could find nothing like that.

Lots of stuff about Ramanujan, though.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:40 PM
Category: ChinaIndiaMathsTechnology
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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
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