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For parents tempting to send their children to local schools, below is a good article from Shanghai Daily.

I showed the article to my local co-worker who is a mother of a 6 year-old first grader and she could not agree more with the author that “he will be constantly ranked in accordance with his score, which then dictates the amount of respect and kindness he will get from his teachers and classmates.”

Pupils are wrecks but the system grinds on

Created: 2008-1-16

Author:Wan Lixin

ONE noted scholar once remarked that the youth today are no longer capable of experiencing intense feelings, whether the ecstasies of joy or the depths of sorrow.

But recently some students were moved to tears by a text depicting the vicissitudes experienced by Fan Jin.

Excerpted from the classic novel “The Scholars,” the story relates how Fan, long held in contempt by his family and relatives, succeeds in the provincial examination at the age of 54. He goes mad upon hearing the news.

The examination success also results in a dramatic elevation in the estimation of Fan, particularly by his father-in-law Butcher Hu, who used to abuse him.

“There were faint sobs while the teacher was going through the text. Quite a few students were in tears, just like me …” thus wrote Xiao Yu, a junior high school student in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, in his diary.

Xiao Yu explained that the readers were so sympathetic because they themselves are all too familiar with types like Butcher Hu in their own lives.

The “good” students, or those good at getting high scores, are pampered and fawned over by the teachers and the students alike, in spite of their defects in other respects.

The “bad” students are perennial victims of prejudice, disdain, and neglect.

But the similarities between Fan and today’s young scholars are limited.

First, only a very small minority chose to distinguish themselves through studies in Fan’s time, while today almost none can be spared the ordeal.

Second, Fan at 54 had sat for about 20 examinations, which was only a fraction of the number endured by a student today at age 10.

There is also one fundamental difference: Fan’s studies were largely self-motivated and self-managed, because at his time there was no orthodox curriculum and national syllabus, or standardized tests.

Today school cramming is institutionalized, compulsory, and begins from pre-school years.

One of my nephews in north Jiangsu is cramming for this year’s National College Entrance Examination; he leaves home at 5:30am and returns home at 10:30pm, almost every day for the past three years.

This is the test of tests and it reduces individuals infinitely diverse in their temperaments and aspirations to a fatal numerical score.

The message has been hammered home to students that any letting-up in their efforts will cost them the race.

As if they were professional sports people, who are constantly reminded that the medal has to be won, at whatever cost.

The health and psychological costs are considerable, when you know the number of students who end up traumatized.

I remember scholar Qian Mu once noted that intensifying competition determines that our society is churning out human wrecks.

Almost all are losers. Depending on the context, one winner will emerge in a class, a school, a field, a nation.

Individual resistance can be futile.

For instance, my five-year old son is attending a kindergarten known for its English teaching, but so far we have managed to show little concern over his ignorance compared with his classmates. We have successfully deflected the attentions of salespersons who intend to prey on his weekends and vacations.

But our protection can go only as far as elementary school, where he will be constantly ranked in accordance with his score, which then dictates the amount of respect and kindness he will get from his teachers and classmates.

When everyone else is hell-bent on revving up their scores, those who dare to take a laissez-faire attitude are, as one parent said, “subjecting their kid to a pack of wolves.”

The really sensible parents, rather than shield them, should teach them how to live with wolves.

I heard from one of my colleagues that one couple, obviously taking a liberal view of education, would not hear of any private schooling for their kid. To their great dismay, their child failed to enter a key school.

Thus, unless the so-called jianfu (unloading) is a nationally-coordinated move, those who dare to take the initiative are veritable dummies.

This explains why repeated efforts at unloading all end up as short-lived farces.

Remedy elusive

Late last November the education department in Wuhan, Hubei Province, promulgated a total of 17 decrees aimed at relieving students’ burden.

The decrees, acclaimed as highly doable, aimed to reduce the burden by regulating study hours, home assignments, the times of examinations, the number of competitive events, and the practice of private tutoring.

Just one month after they went into effect, the decrees had failed. This outcome did not surprise the education experts, teachers and parents.

From elementary school on, nearly all teachers are subjected to quantitative assessment, which essentially means linking the average class test results with the teachers’ earnings.

The only way to achieve quick results in this race for high scores, thus good earnings, is to involve students in incessant problem-solving.

Many teachers and parents are keenly aware that this pedagogy is destroying their students and children, both mentally and physically.

But even the most liberal-minded teachers dare not do what’s right for the kids, encumbered as they are by their own big family to support.

Who dares to challenge the establishment by sacrificing the welfare of their family?

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