How was teaching in Shanghai

Education in China

Sunday, May 23rd, 2021

World time / archive | Article from May 31, 2011

Timpani in old ways of thinking

By Ruth Kirchner

The Chinese metropolis Shanghai is regularly ahead when comparing school performance. (AP archive)

Chinese students are often ahead of American and many European children, especially in science. Beijing and Shanhai regularly come out on top in the Pisa study. But the Chinese education system also has its downsides.

The ninth middle school in Beijing. In the schoolyard, schoolchildren play basketball during their lunch break, and schoolgirls stroll around the site in small groups. In the five-storey brown buildings, around 2000 students study in six grades. The ninth middle school in southwest Beijing is considered one of the top schools in the capital - it is well equipped with computers and Internet access in every classroom, a library and sports fields. 17-year-old Zhao Xuan has also been attending school here for six years. Now she is in the third grade of high school, the senior year. The last year of her twelve years at school is the toughest.

"I get up a little before six thirty, I'm at school at seven, we study from seven to eight - each for himself. From eight we have lessons until just before 12. After that there is a lunch break we then have another four hours of school. "

Zhou Xuan and her parents live not far from the school in a typical high-rise estate on the outskirts of Beijing. The three-room apartment on the eleventh floor is simply furnished. A middle class apartment. In Zhou Xuan's room there is an Ikea shelf with photos of her best friend, lots of plush toys, a piano - and her desk with a huge number of school books. Chemistry and physics, mathematics and biology. This is where she learns when she comes home from school.

"I'll get home around half past six, then I'll have something to eat first. I'll start my homework around a quarter past seven. There's no precise schedule for that. When I get tired, I go out of my room and walk a bit in the Around the apartment. Around ten o'clock I do a few stretching exercises. From ten thirty on I study. Then I brush my teeth. I go to bed around eleven. Many of my classmates study until midnight or even go to bed later. "

Sport or just relaxing - that doesn't exist for Zhou Xuan at the moment. Not even on the weekend. She spends that at her desk as well. She doesn't know any other way. Almost all of her school days it was like this: it was always about exams, class work, tests.

China's schools are famous and notorious for their endless exams, for their standardized tests. But all the drama, memorization, drill and discipline also have advantages: Zhou Xuan is a good student and can easily compete with high school students in Germany in chemistry, biology and physics. There is no question that she will pass the university entrance exam next month. The latest Pisa study from last December showed it clearly: Chinese young people do well in international comparative tests. Students from the east Chinese coastal metropolis Shanghai are even considered to be the best in the world. So is the Chinese timpani and buffalo pedagogy superior to the western system? Education experts like Professor Yang Dongping from the Beijing Institute of Technology are waving their hand.

"China didn't ring the Pisa results, including those from Shanghai. We don't want to exaggerate the results. Shanghai doesn't represent the whole of China. The teachers and school equipment are very good, especially in cities like Shanghai. There you can keep up with the industrialized countries, the economic development there is on the same level. But China has huge problems in other regions, especially in the west - especially in the rural areas. It looks completely different there. You can do that do not compare at all. "

Indeed, there is a huge educational gap in China. Shanghai and Beijing remain exceptions in a country that spends significantly less on education than many industrialized countries, but more than other emerging countries such as India. For years, the Chinese government has promised to increase spending on education - to four percent of gross domestic product. But Beijing has still not achieved this goal. There are still schools in rural areas that are more third than first world.

For example, this one-class school in the mountains of the western Chinese province of Shaanxi. The difference to Zhou Xuan's school in Beijing couldn't be greater. In the mountain school, teacher Li Xiaopeng stands in front of the blackboard that morning and explains how to add and subtract. Wind and rain are sweeping through the large cracks in the wooden door, the roof is leaking. There is no school library here. Also no computers or sports fields. The five to twelve year old students come from the impoverished mountain farms in the area and usually grow up with their grandparents. The parents moved to the cities as migrant workers in search of a livelihood, a way out of poverty. Only Li Xiaopeng stayed. The almost 40 year old, who has just completed training as a substitute teacher, has made it his business to teach the mountain children.

"Sometimes I'm on the verge of giving up. Life here in the mountains is extremely hard, I hardly earn any money. As a migrant worker, I could easily earn 200 or 300 euros a month. But when I see the children in." the morning - their hunger for knowledge, that goes to my heart, then I know that I have to keep going. "

The school lives mainly from donations. The next village is in the valley, it takes an hour to get there - on foot. There is a village school there, which is a little better equipped. That is why the local government does not want to support the school in the mountains as well. But the village school is too far away for the children from the mountains, some of them walk to Teacher Li for over an hour in the morning. For example, eleven-year-old Wei Bing. The girl with the long black braids lives with her little sister with her grandparents.

"I like my teacher. He shows us a lot. Because we live so far away, he also cooks lunch for us - then we don't have to go home for lunch. I like to study. When I grow up, I want to be a scientist, then I can get out of the mountains here. "

It is unlikely that little Wei Bing will be able to fulfill her dream. Her starting position in life is so much worse than that of high school student Zhou Xuan in Beijing, who receives a lot of support from her well-paid parents and goes to one of the best schools in the city. But the unequal distribution of resources is only a problem in the Chinese education system. The other, at least as big a problem is the quality of education - also in Beijing and Shanghai. Chinese education experts are increasingly doubting that China's students are learning the right thing to do in order to be equipped for a modern knowledge society and the globalized world. This is one of the reasons why the Pisa results are not very meaningful, says Jiang Xueqin, deputy school director at the renowned high school at Peking University.

"The real question is what do the results tell us? They just tell us that Chinese students are good at taking exams. We know the phenomenon of Chinese students who want to study in the US and have to take standardized tests to do so. You have great results, but their English is totally bad. Standardized tests have fundamental flaws. They produce nice results, but they don't mean much. Do they measure real skills? To do well in exams you need discipline, concentration, patience, you have to work hard, have a good memory, and be good at math. No more. If you also obey and adjust, you'll do well on your final exam - and make it to a good university. But those skills don ' t necessarily make a good one Manager from or a leader in international business. "

Jiang Xueqin is a returned Chinese overseas. He was born in China, but went to school and university in Canada and the USA. He has lived in China again for several years and is one of a growing number of educators and educational experts who question the Chinese education and training system and are looking for opportunities for reform. They are still in the minority, but they see with growing concern that while China's schools are producing successful Pauk-Machines, many other skills fall by the wayside: creativity and curiosity, critical thinking and ingenuity. Skills that all modern societies urgently need in a globalized world, as Professor Yang from the Beijing Institute of Technology also emphasizes.

"One of our basic problems is this: all tests have standard answers. Teachers and parents make sure that the students learn these answers, they are not encouraged to question, to be critical, to discover something new. Therefore there is no innovation with us . Since the founding of the People's Republic 60 years ago, we have not produced any world-class scientists. That is simply the reality. "

What China initially achieved with its education system is something completely different. Millions of people have received basic education for the first time in more than 60 years since the founding of the People's Republic. Although the pent-up demand in matters of education is still immensely high, especially in rural areas, the number of illiterate people in China is extremely low at around four percent compared to other emerging countries such as India. This is a huge success for a huge country like China. But in modern China, the legacy of socialism should only be the basis on which the education system must now be further developed, demands Jiang Xueqin.

"This system is able to teach people basic skills. It also makes people think the same thing - it's very monolithic. It all made sense under socialism. It was about teaching people to read and write. You had to yourself don't worry about the jobs, there was no market. You didn't need to orientate yourself to the interests of the market. Those who came from university were assigned a job. But in the market economy none of that works anymore. With a socialist education system you can't meet the needs of the market. Things don't fit together anymore. "

But the system hasn't changed in years. The schools and universities have been massively expanded, but the way in which education is conveyed has remained the same. Only the competition and the pressure to perform have grown extremely in the last few years - because of the still scarce educational resources in the most populous country in the world, because of the one-child policy and the demands and expectations of parents. Because standardized examinations and tests guarantee a minimum of equality of opportunity, they stick to it. If you want to survive in this selective and extremely performance-oriented system, you have to start working at an early age.

In this Beijing kindergarten, 30 five-year-olds are sitting on the floor reciting ancient poems from the Tang period. They don't really know what they are reciting in the choir. The poems are hundreds of years old. But understanding is not important at first, it is just about reciting together. The first characters are already practiced in kindergarten - reading and writing in China can only be learned with drill and discipline. The Chinese language has no alphabet, you can only learn the thousands of characters by writing and memorizing them hundreds of times. This is one of the reasons for the tendency to repeat and memorize in the Chinese educational tradition.

In order to give their children a good start in school life, offspring from well-off families at the tender age of four or five go to additional math and English courses on weekends. They learn the piano or the violin. They attend calligraphy and painting courses, have appointments at weekends like managers.

The fact that Chinese parents put their children under pressure from an early age is also due to the strict family planning policy. In the cities in particular, most children today grow up without siblings - all the hopes and expectations of their parents weigh on the narrow shoulders of the only child, says Professor Yang.

"When you have five children, it's easy. You send the most intelligent child to university and the most active into the army. Of course, that doesn't work with just one child. That's why the expectations are so high. But of course." the parents don't practice without a reason so much pressure - they just follow the trend of the education system. And it's always about choosing the right school. "

That is why Chinese schoolchildren live from the start with the demand and the pressure to always be among the best. Only the students with the best grades make it to the good middle schools after elementary school, cramming their way through endless tests and exams to high school - and finally, at the end of school, to the entrance test for the university, the Gaokao as it is called in Chinese. This national university entrance exam is the most important test in a young Chinese person's life. The further path of life depends on her. It's that time again at the beginning of June. Then - like every year - around nine million young Chinese are tested for two days. In Chinese, mathematics and a foreign language and two to three other subjects from the social sciences or natural sciences. 750 points can be achieved. Those who manage more than 500 have usually got hold of a university place. However, if you want to go to elite universities like Tsinghua in Beijing, you need significantly more points.

Even those who want to make the leap from the provinces to the coveted universities in large cities like Beijing or Shanghai have to be significantly better than the average. The universities in the metropolises have limited the number of students from the provinces through quotas. The Gaokao therefore does not guarantee real equality of opportunity. Nevertheless, it is considered to be the most important social stepping stone, especially for the socially disadvantaged.

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