The Chinese school system for young children and teenagers is hard for 3 reasons:
- Chinese parents and most children understand the importance of a good education. they must devote a huge amount of time for learning 5000 to 10 000 Chinese characters, the complex combinations of characters and many of the old characters, that were used in ancient times, 5000 years ago!
- The second reason is that the teachers and the entrance exams for university are as tough as steel nails. The teachers enforce the government’s strict edicts about education. Students in the 14 to 18 age-group need to work between 12 and 14 hours every day if they want to enter a university.Your correspondent met 3 young 16-year olds in Hainan. They start school at 07.30h in the morning, and have 6 45 minute lessons lessons each day with three breaks. School finishes at 18.00h but homework can go on to midnight.
Repetition and rote learning are the key to memorising the characters. During the early years at school they must write the same character 500 to 1000 times on paper. One of the students admitted to using two pens in one hand to write the same character on 2 lines concurrently!
The university entrance exams last 3 days during which time the whole of the country goes into an “emergency mode” with fathers and mothers deeply concerned about how well their offspring manage at these exams.
Tradition runs deep here and the past is never forgotten, but they also keep their eyes on the future. Children are seen as the providers and carers of their parents, something the offspring take take seriously. Three generations still live together in the same home in many cities and in the countryside. If they are separated then they will always come together for the New Year Spring Festival and for the other festivals that they celebrate throughout the whole year.
- The third reason why life is hard is that there are few alternatives to hard manual labor if a normal school education is missed. This is the fate of the majority of poor, especially those who live in the countryside far from schools.The good news is that private enterprise thrives, with shops, small workshops and the service sector open 24/7, every day of the year. If you are lucky under-educated person you may be lucky and find a good job or start a small company… However, Chinese cities and towns are littered with people who have very, very little, and for whom there is no safety net.
If there is money, or if the child is a good student at school, then the parents will encourage their children to go abroad to study. Learning languages was never a easily proposition for the older generation, but now many young people can understand English, Japanese and other languages even though they hesitate to speak. It is hard to find native English speakers to practice with and their stern teachers place too much emphasis on grammar that stifles students’ natural instincts to speak up!
The never-ending discipline, the endless repetition means that most students are rather serious because there are no other ways to spend your youth, and all of your mates are in the same boat. Then the attraction of going abroad and escaping “hard labor” and tough competition for good jobs can be a very attractive alternative for open eyed young ones…