Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Chinese Education; or, What the F#ck?

Charlie, Roy, & Jack
Originally uploaded by billmcgonigle.
For those of you who might not be aware, China has a huge population. 1.3 billion, or thereabouts. That's a lot. Trust me.

Beginning in 1980, the Chinese government instituted a "One-Child" policy. This was basically an effort to counter the cultural/historical practice of breeding like rabbits so as to curb the population problem. For those of you unfamilair with Malthus, you should understand that population grows in an exponential manner, while without technological advancement (which you can't count on outside of the grand ol' US of A) food production grows in a linear fashion.

Which means people grow fast than food. Which becomes a big problem when you and 1.3 billion others want a burrito.

Anyways, the problem in China was not only with food, but also with issues such as education. China simply can not provide education to every student. There is not enough room in the colleges, there is not enough room in the elementary schools, there are not enough teachers. It is a sad, but true fact.

This shortage, combined with the "One-Child" policy, has bred a new generation of highly competative PARENTS. That is not a typo. Parents. The students, the children, often end up spoiled as balls, as they are not only only children, and thus the sole focus of doting parents, but also the sole focus of doting parents who have recently come into more money than they could have dreamed of 10 or 15 years ago.

Now it all starts at an earlier and earlier age. When I started at my school, our youngest student was 5 or 6. But that 5 or 6 year old was an incredibly intelligent 5/6 year old and deserved (and could handle) learning a foreign language. Now we have half a dozen classes where the students are as young as 3. Again: three. They have yet to start any sort of school, they have yet to be taught any sort of discipline, they have hardly spent a moment away from Mom and Dad, and this kids are being entrusted to ME to teach them English.

By the way, these kids don't even know Chinese. Well, they know Chinese, but I know more than they do. Which is great for my ego, since now I know my own level is above a 3 year old snot eater.

Now, I'd be fine with 3 year olds if I was running some sort of pre-school deal. I remember my own days at Mrs. Jones' pre-school in Byfield; carefree days where I learned the alphabet and made macaroni pictures. Mrs. Jones instilled a sense of cooperation and respect in us, which served me well throughout the rest of my education.

But I'm not charged with that responsibility. These parents want me actually make their kids conversant in English. And I need to do it with only an hour and a half every week. With no help from the parents. The children are not expected to study outside of class, and the parents get offended when I tell them the children need to practice daily if they are are meet the expectations the parents are setting for the kids and for me.

What the parents do like to tell me is to spend more time in class with repetition. I hate repetition. I think it is the worst way to learn English. I think its actually the worst way to learn anything, but I'll digress on that later. But seriously, a parent congratualted me on what she thought was the best class I had taught where I spent 30 mintutes repeating "Can you run?" "Yes I can" and "Can you fly?" "No I cant" over and over. I guarantee you that these kids are ever asked if they can fly, well, 5 of them will tell you "no," 9 will turn around and stare at the wall, and if you're talking to my student (affectionately named after my youngest brother) Quinn, he'll just repeat whatever you said then pick his nose.

I constantly tell my school administration that I have no idea what I'm doing with kids this young, that I'm not qualified to teach them, that I spend half the class just getting them to sit properly (I cant handle surveying the room only to find myself greeted by half a dozen 4 year exhibitionists); yet I continue to get these classes. And I know why. Because the kids like me. They like me because they think I'm a funny talking monkey. I know that because I can understand them.

They also like to punch my butt.

This is the beginning of a young Chinese student's modern education. And its not even a real beginning, it is actually more of a head start, as only the privaledged can afford this luxury (yes, I'm calling the opportunity to punch my butt a luxury). More on the next step, "real" Chinese schooling, later.


At 9:57 PM, Blogger Kelley said...

I am a very good friend of Deirdre's and she suggested I look up your blog. I am going to China on my honeymoon Sept 9-Oct7. We will be in Beijing for the first few days.
I read your blog and found it interesting. Have you read Peter Hessler's book Two Years on the Yangtze? He was an English professor in Fulin with the Peace Corps and reports similar frustrations. I think you would find it interesting if you haven't read it.
Are there many books there for tourists in English? I want to get a bird book for China. I realize it is a large country and have no idea where to start. I don't want something heavy, just something like an Audubon or Robbins etc. and we are going to Tibet, Xian, Chengdu, Chongging (sp?) the Yangtze, Hong Kong and Guilin. Any suggestions?
We will be traveling with OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) and then to Guilin with General Tours. We are really excited about this and hope that China is safe.
Any suggestions or thoughts?
Kelley Schofield


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