The Pro’s and Con’s of a Student’s Life in China, by Stephanie Chow

Ok, so I’ve always heard rumours about what life is like in China in regards to school. I had always heard that school for Chinese people growing up was super intense in regards to focus and studying. Turns out the rumours were true! I am in contact with students of all ages on a daily basis and the ones that are good in English have given me a break down of their weekly schedule and the school curriculum in Hohhot. And here is the breakdown:

In China, school doesn’t start for kids until they are 7 years old. This is the same in Canada (remember that many children in China are considered to be 1 year older than they actually are, meaning that they are usually 6 when then start grade 1). Like Canada, parents have the option to send their children to kindergarden when they are 4-6, which I think is a good idea because its an important introduction to the rules and structure of school that they will have to follow once they hit 7.

For future reference: EF has made deals with other companies in the city (kindergarden school, Air-China employees, other schools), where some of the foreign teachers are sent to other locations around the city to either give an english seminar or teach a lesson for however long they’ve been hired for, and it all counts towards our weekly teaching hours. So when I first began teaching here, I was informed that I would be teaching at a kindergarden school outside of EF once a week. I was trained for it and everything, and it doesn’t matter how well I explain it in words; you will never understand what it’s like to teach english at kindergarden unless you see it for yourself. Four lessons in 2 hours, around 150-200 kids…all by myself….THANKFULLY, kindergarden stopped for the summer (I only had to do it twice!), so I’ve dodged that bullet until September! I’ll write more about it once I’m actually doing it on a weekly basis…I already shudder at the thought!

So, like Canada, children can be sent to kindergarden before hitting normal school. And like Canada, most elementary schools go from Monday-Friday and the hours are either 9-3 or 9-5, I never found out. For kids at home, high school is usually where your social life begins. But not here! High school is where most students say goodbye to their social lives. And school is not Monday-Friday, but Monday-Saturday here. This is a weekly breakdown of the average teenager in high school:
5am-6am: Wake up and have a large, hot breakfast, then head to school.
7am: Morning classes begin.
12:00pm: Lunch time!! Students have 2 hours to eat a large, hot lunch and catch an hour or so of sleep. I’ve seen students eating lunch in the park, or heading home, or at a local cafe/restaurant at lunch. But I’ve also been informed that many students are part of a school program where they get on a bus at 12pm and are taken to a location close by that supplies them with a large lunch and a cot that they can sleep on until they are expected back at school. This BLEW my mind when I first heard it.
2:00pm: Afternoon classes begin.
7:00pm: School ends. Students head home for dinner, or go to after school activities like sports, music lessons, tutoring, study groups, English lessons at EF, etc.
7pm-10pm: Depending on their after school activities, most students spend this time doing homework. The Chinese believe in a lot, and I mean A LOT, of personal study at home. They believe that self-disciplin is the key to retaining all the knowledge that they learned during the days lessons. And can you guess what they view as the most important subject for study?? If you guessed Math, you are correct! Math and science. You are a God among men if you are savy in math (but can you tell one decent joke? pfft). So when I’m assigning homework to my students, particularly the older ones, I never really stress if they don’t do it come next class. I completely understand; they have enough to deal with as it is.
10pm-11pm: Bed time.

Sundays are their only days off, and that is when most of my older classes are. Which means that my TB and Real students never get a day off from school. Ever. Also, it’s summer intensive. I’m pretty sure they get atleast a month and a half off for summer, and many of the adult students have signed up for daily classes called “Life club” and “Intensive classes” at EF. A lot of the parents sign the HF and TB students up as well, so we have life clubs for all ages. They come almost every day to learn english in a more relaxed manor. For example, I taught a life club the other day on fruit and taste. We made smoothies!! It was awesome.

But that aside, I feel bad for the students. For the majority of parents, education is #1 with an iron fist. The better your grades, the better chance you’ll have at a better life and job. This is true, but I shudder when I think about what all the studying and the lack of socializing is doing to their social skills. Maybe I’m just someone who believes in balance. It’s funny because many of the young girls tell me they have “boyfriends”. I always ask about this because I find their concept of dating fascinating. I go “Oh really?! When do you spend time with them? On Sunday?” and they go “Oh no!! Sunday is meant for studying and being alone. You need space for yourself, you know! I see him at lunch time or we walk home together!” Oh dear. And they don’t even see each other at lunch time! They just text each other and eat lunch with their friends! It’s very cute, but at the same time, sorry sweety – That’s not a boyfriend. They are just so sheltered!

Nuts. Absolutely nuts.

On the plus side, the focus and intelligence (book smarts, anyways) that these kids have is unbelievable! Their little geniuses, and many of them are very near to fluent in English! Many apply to prestigious schools in China, but outside of China as well! And they get in! Despite all the pressure, they still manage to make good friends, develop their own personalities and have some pretty fantastic dreams in reference to their futures, such as wanting to study abroad! (then again, that could be their blind obedience to their parents wishes…oh well). I’ve noticed that the majority of students have expressed interest in Canada, and always ask me about what it’s like to live there. I give a lot of advice, but mostly I tell them to make a lot of friends because I feel like thats the most important aspect of going away. And though a lot of the students in China tend to be sheltered, awkward and nerdy, they are actually the sweetest and brightest kids I’ve met!

So what lesson can we take away after hearing about what school is like in China? Maybe it’s to be more appreciative of how lazy our society allows us to be? Or maybe it’s a lesson in comparing ones society to another’s and really considering what is valued in each: a fashionable wardrobe and a lot of friends or self-disciplin and an untarnished academic record?? I really couldn’t tell you…maybe if I studied the variables from 7am-10pm I would be able to give you a straight answer. Hmm….

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ben Babcock
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 02:40:30

    Wow, that was a really insightful post, Steph. Keep it up!

    It does seem very weird. I’ve always been an autodidact, so I loved school and studying, but I admit I love my free time. I think a certain amount of free time gives kids the ability to experiment in a way that isn’t always possible in a structured environment. Of course, China is just so different when it comes to the historical influences on their culture, not to mention the number of people competing for top jobs.

    And math people can tell jokes; we just don’t tell them to you non-math people. 😛 Observe: http://xkcd.com/710/

    Reply

  2. Tricia Allan
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 03:02:39

    150-200 kindergarteners by yourself for two hours?!! I will never complain about 30 grade 4/5 students again! That’s craziness!

    Reply

  3. Blaine Copland
    Jul 09, 2011 @ 04:30:46

    We are too lazy here, but it is just as bad to be too stressed. I have read that the Asian countries have the highest suicide rates.

    Children should learn to work hard from an early age and should know that you will not succeed without effort. We give cute little happy face stickers for everything. A good work ethic is an important life tool to give your children. Having said that, yes, they should also have fun. And children should be taught the realities of life; too sheltered is just asking for trouble.

    I agree that we can learn a lot from the Chinese education system, both positive and negative.

    Reply

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