Posted by Lucas Pratt on 4/24/2017
It has been more than a month since I first arrived in China, making this the longest time I've ever been away from home. For me, this passing of time has marked a change from just enjoying China in the way that I might enjoy a vacation, to focus more on adapting to the Chinese lifestyle and culture around me. And, the most recent example of this is the beginning of the second semester of JIngshan High school, my primary center for education in the next three months.
As one might expect, school in China is much different than the schooling style we are used to in the States. As exchange students, we had ideas on how the schooling was going to differ from America's, but had yet to experience it for ourselves. So, when the first day of school came around the corner last week, we were standing in the main lobby wearing our vibrant red, white, and blue uniforms with wary eyes, looking around suspiciously and unsure on what was about to come. Needless to say, we learned the rules pretty quickly. For the first week, we were to "shadow" our host student by sitting in the back of their classes, trying our best to follow along. We had to wear our uniforms at all times, stay in the classroom until the class was over, and the use of any technology whatsoever was strictly prohibited. Uniforms were weird for all of the exchange students, sans me, because I used to have to wear a uniform for a previous school. But most of us weren't fluent in Chinese, meaning following the class was next to impossible. We couldn't get up to leave the room until class was done, so the bathroom breaks that American students were used to were off the list. And finally, the ban on technology everywhere, no matter what its purpose was, was annoying at least. With all of these restrictions, we were left to either, read, write, or color silently in the back of the classroom, and as you might imagine, nine classes of this got boring really fast.
That's not to say there wasn't an upside. There were ten minute breaks in between classes instead of five, and since students didn't physically move classrooms, there was no time lost in commute between classes. There are two breaks each day where students do eye exercises to prepare themselves for the classes ahead. And, a hour and a half lunch in combination with the privilege of eating the faculty lunches made for an amazing midday experience. There were also more broad changes in the styles of learning. In America, we focused on deep thinking, cooperative learning, and the growth of character and personal improvement through the use of extra curriculars after school. China, by stark contrast, seems to focus more on memorization, focuses on self studying, and more dedicated extracurriculars like sports and theatre are traded out for longer school days and small clubs.
Obviously the differences between the two styles of education exist for a reason. After a few days thinking about this, I believe I have some idea on how these differences came to be. In ancient China, the class system was fairly rigid. The only way to move up was through the civil-service exams, where a student could gain higher status from the education he earned. This strictly education focused style of schooling is very clearly echoed in schools today. Memorization was critical to passing the civil service exams, and the memorization of hard facts is emphasized in today's Chinese schools. This is further supported by the students taking more hard science classes (physics and chemistry instead of one or the other.), rather than taking more classes that require creative thinking. These facts take time to memorize, hence the longer class times. Even the longer lunches and breaks are built in to specifically help students learn through maximum efficiency. While it can be argued that extracurriculars are important, they seem to be viewed as a fun activity, and is nowhere as important as school. This idea of the stereotype of an Asian “tiger mom” may also come from the fact that Asian families put a much bigger emphasis on education than what we Americans feel is acceptable. Because, in ancient China, you had to push to do well, as it was your only chance to make a better life for yourself. And while this idea of extreme push for education is considered unhealthy, there is no denying it is producing results in today’s world. Which education system is better is almost impossible to judge, and the education systems can only truly be tested with the passing of time.