Lauren Rhodes: How would YOU navigate your way through the Chinese School System?

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Shanghai, China: Second Language Acquisition in China and the USA program this summer with Professor Lydia McDermott. Lauren Rhodes ’21 is undecided.

Every day here in China I learn about the competitiveness of the Chinese School System, and it’s teaching curriculum style through guest lecturers to field observations.

Unlike countries like the United States, China has a long history with its testing system starting way back during China’s feudal society known as the Keju system, the Imperial Examination. It dominated education; I learned from Dr. Gao our first guest lecturer. It began in the Sui Dynasty and had lasted more than 1,300 years until the last examination which held during the Qing Dynasty. I’m sure many of you know Confucius, regarded as one of the most amazing men in Chinese history. Confucius once said, “A good scholar can become an official,” and, “He who excels in learning can become an official.” Becoming an official offered you and your family a better life. With China’s long-standing history of examination type learning, it is no surprise that Deng Xiao Ping reinstated the Gao Kao which is the National College Entrance Exam. He regarded it as the reliable talent security for modernization, satisfying the appetite of citizens and the key to improving income levels.

Understanding the history of China’s current school system is not enough to fully understand the situation but a start. Navigating your way through a Chinese School System today is very difficult, whether you’re a parent, a student, or a researcher. You’ll often hear individuals in education, along with parents say, “Don’t make your children lose at the starting point,” further fostering a competitive atmosphere for future generations.

In the Chinese School System, only 9 years are compulsory for citizens (Elementary & Middle School). The cost of enrolling your child in a kindergarten public school is around $50 a month. A private school would cost $600 a month, and international schools would cost $1,400 a month. Elementary public schools determined by the school district and your current housing location. An excellent private elementary school is hard to get into with only a 5% admissions rate and a heavy workload compared to public schools, which parents see as better preparation for their children. While international schools from middle to high school can cost $45,000 a year and require English. Middle public schools lead to little chances of attending an excellent high school. Once again a private middle school is expensive and entails heavier workloads. Now off to high school, only the top 10 prepare students for the Gao Kao and require students to get a high score on their Zhong Kao which is the middle to high school examination. Private schools offer general exam preparations such as SAT to ACT, but it is highly competitive to get into and require English. I learned from my third guest lecturer, Dr. Zhang.

With China’s massive population a typical Primary School class size can be 38 to one teacher, while Junior Secondary School (Middle School in China) can be 47 to one teacher. With such large class sizes, a systematic teaching style is easy to operate. Chinese Classroom disciplinary fosters very efficient learning. Although this may be efficient for such a large class size, it fosters a teacher to teach for tests and memory-based learning. Remember the saying, “Don’t make your children lose at the starting point,” incentives parents to enroll children at a very young age compared to American children and pressures their children into focusing only on education that children often don’t do house chores. You’ll see parents even buy their children exams to homework when a parent sees a teacher not giving enough.

My second week in China on a Wednesday I got to meet with a Language Buddy whom I’ll refer to as Mockingbird, favorite Marvel Superhero. All my previous knowledge about the Chinese School System came from the articles I’ve read, along with guest lecturer teachings. Although I may have taught at a Migrant School it still wasn’t clear enough to me why the Chinese Educational world was so competitive and what effects did it have on those that underwent such a system. Mockingbird is one of many graduate students learning about education many of whom were born and raised in China and has currently never left the country.

Mockingbird was curious about the education system in America, asking questions like, “Is it true in America students don’t have to attend classes in college?”, “How do you have time to participate in extracurricular activities?”, “I heard that American curriculum is easier than Chinese, what is it like?”. Now, I’ve only attended public school in America for 5 years, and with the limited knowledge I had, she seemed to stare at me in awe. I was curious if students enjoyed learning in China, so I asked, “What was your favorite subject growing up as a child?”. She replied, “I didn’t have one. A school was just school, something that I had to do”. Finally, realizing just how fortunate I was that something simple as liking a subject was a privilege. I then asked, “If you’re not fond of a particular subject, how did you know what you wanted to study for college?”. Mockingbird replied, “that’s easy people study majors whether they like it or not based on the job demand of the country and whether or not it pays good money.” We further conversed, and I grew to learn that everything from large class sizes, memory-based learning, parent pressure, the buying of homework to exams were all true and very much in practice despite China’s effort to adopt more western-style teaching. It was shocking to even learn according to Mockingbird parent, the more homework you do, the fewer chances you get at being hurt if you were to be playing outside so in turn somehow homework and exams foster safety for individuals.

Given all the information that you have now…

A slide from “A Brief Introduction to K-12 Education in China” by Dr. Xia Lou Zhang

How would YOU design your children’s educational journey?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *