|Motivating the kids, Chinese style [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]|
In Edinburgh this past summer, I was party to an unedifying incident. A Chinese man in his 70s had brought his 3-year-old granddaughter to a toddlers' play park. He spoke a rustic Chinese dialect and not a word of English. He suddenly found himself mobbed, abused and assaulted by a group of local children who were barely out of their teens. The pretext for the attack was a nonsensical and groundless mob-allegation, springing out of nowhere, that he was a pedophile.
My Chinese wife, who tried to put a stop to the attack, was livid, and understandably so. It is inconceivable in China that any elderly person, and in particular a foreigner, could ever be treated in such a way by a group of youngsters. In all my years in China I have never once seen a child above primary-school age being rude to any adult.
Only a very small group of the children present actually joined in the attack. But these were perfectly ordinary children, not feral kids from some ruinous housing scheme. There has been a visible coarsening of attitudes in Britain over the last 30 years, where children are too often encouraged to expend their energy on demanding their rights rather than thinking about their responsibilities.
On Sept. 1, my 6-year old son started school. He attends the local primary school here in Beijing, where I believe he will get a better start to his education and develop better study habits and a more disciplined and respectful attitude toward the school and his teachers than he would in the UK. I hope some of that discipline and respect might even rub off on his attitude toward his parents!
I know that not everything in Chinese education is ideal. In their own drive for perfection, the Chinese place their children under far too much pressure at too young an age. The school day is long and is often followed by hours of homework and more lessons in English, math, Chinese, chess, abacus, music or painting. And then there are the weekends: more opportunities for yet more hours of studying.
Chinese parents would certainly respond that in the ultra-competitive Chinese environment, they would be neglecting their children and compromising their futures if they did not do everything possible to ensure that their child will win a place in the best middle-school, the best high school, the best university.
Another issue is the type of education on offer. As children grow older, more of their time seems to be spent on "hard" subjects math and science. This focus produces good engineers and physicists but is detrimental to creative thinking. Many Chinese who apply to Western universities struggle to produce good, interesting, well-structured essays in support of their applications because critical thinking and expressing abstract ideas were not a priority in their secondary school education.
But if there is one aspect of Chinese education that leaves an unsavory taste in the mouth, it would be the money. Parents who aspire to a better education for their children will find that they can secure a place in a better school, at almost every level, on payment of the right sum of money to the right person. It is not at all difficult to establish who the person is and how much the sum of money. Sometimes it is a lot of money. We did not pay money on behalf of our son, and I would not do so.
|Education reform [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]|
The recently celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival was another opportunity for money to change hands. To her great credit, my son's teacher, a young girl starting her teaching career, made it clear from the outset that she neither sought nor would accept any payment other than her salary in exchange for doing her job. But I know of people with children at other schools who felt obliged to hand over substantial sums of money to people who did accept them.
But my son will still have the chance to master Chinese at an early age he can perfect his English later. I think that will be easier than doing it the other way around. I struggle to understand Western parents who bring their children to China and send them to native-language international schools, thereby denying them a valuable opportunity to learn Chinese that could only be benefit to them in the future.
So there are positives and negatives about an education in China. There needs to be a better balance in terms of the workload and the type of education on offer. The system needs to be cleaned up, and I know that this is a priority for the government. But overall, I think my son is a very lucky boy. I hope he appreciates it.
David Ferguson is a British editor working and living in Beijing.
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.