I know that I’ve not blogged for a bit and I’m sure that heads have been turned in even the highest government positions because crashingabike has been off the airwaves for the last week and a half. Nevertheless, I’m back and colder than ever.
Being a teacher, it’s only right that I take a real interest in my field (pause for laughs). So this week, I’m going to try and wow you with a few factoids in the bizarre world of the Chinese school system. At first, I thought that with parents sending their children to English school for further lessons was a triumph of enterprise, a positive first step to ensuring their child receives a boost in an increasingly English language-orientated world. Perhaps it is. But perhaps people here are driven by money and these children are already going through the first steps towards a good education and thus a well paid job. Perhaps it’s a carefully calculated process from the start? Let’s have a look.
As early as the age of three, children are wheeled in to my English demonstration class for perspective students at 9.00am on a Saturday morning. For those of you who are wondering if this might be a bit too young, we’ll look at the evidence. They can barely speak their mother tongue, they find walking harder than I find quadratic equations and they are generally far more interested in jumping and running than learning a foreign language. On the final point, I at least sympathise with them… who doesn’t like jumping? However, I see a wonder in all this- the ability of a child to communicate, albeit on a very basic level, in a second language when they haven’t yet begun to master their own.
Nonetheless, this absolutely typifies the attitude towards education in China, a rocky road which will absorb virtually every fibre of their being until they reach university- and beyond. In fact, ‘Infinity and beyond’ is perhaps a suitable way of describing their homework load during their teens, but we will get to that.
Attitudes towards education are effectively ‘as much as possible, as early as possible’.
Moving towards the 6-9 year olds, we see on the surface, all the traits on budding young lives full of hope and possibility, smiles on their faces and the world at their feet (please note, other clichés are available). Their language ability even at this age dwarfs the vast majority of British teenagers (a comment, not a judgement!) and some of the students’ command of the language is quite inspiring. If my Chinese was anywhere near their level, I’d be a happy man…
In fact, they do some of the most wonderful, least explainable, things anyone could ever wish for. For example, one of my children (Frank) likes to come and sit on my feet when he has finished his work, like a surreal human-penguin combo. I think he does it to tell me he’s completed a handout, but in fairness we all communicate differently. Another class- incidentally my favourite group- have a few issues with pronunciation. Failing with Simon, they chose Salmon as a replacement, followed shortly by Salmon Fish. Whilst they appear happy with life and events pass them by just as they might any other, but awakening from this surreal situation, we see something more sinister at hand. This manifests itself in several ways, but both of my examples illustrate this perfectly, with rude awakenings.
A quick glance at the clock can bring things into perspective- the Salmon Fish group are in for two hours with me, followed by a further hour with their local Chinese teacher, at 9am on Sunday. Couple this with that fact that it is not uncommon for them to come late because they have had already had a piano lesson or extra maths tutoring that morning gives a little clue as to how intense their ‘weekend’ can be. The worst of my worries at the same age was being able to find two gloves for my football match that day which, if you ask my parents, was enough to put grey hairs atop the head. But the grim reality is that some of these kids do have a grey tinge to their hair (which for reasons you will understand) I cannot photograph.
Another perversity of the school system is that this mentality is so engrained into them, even at such a young age, that they come to the school in order to relax and enjoy themselves. Naturally they have no choice, but I have been told “I love it [the school], we play game”. I ignored the grammar for a second, and pondered the answer… When the fun and games finish, all in a second language I might remind you, they disappear back home to complete their homework.
I’ll broach the subject of future planning next time, as it becomes far more evident amongst the teenagers, but fair to say that the future starts here.
Realistically, I should have probably seen this coming, thanks to the examples I gave at the beginning. Step away from this surreal bubble, and we see that all is not right.
Firstly, my class mutated the seemingly innocent Salmon Fish into Stupid Fish; the reasoning for this still escapes me. Secondly- and most sinister of all- from the sweet young boy of my lower level class. Last week Frank plonked himself on my toes, just as he would do normally, only to look up with a grin the size of Garfield’s a few seconds later. He had passed wind upon mine loafers.
If I hadn’t seen the signs before this, I only have myself to blame. The lesson I learnt: things are not what they seem…
Next week, I’ll look at the effect of education on the teenagers of China. That’ll be worth a read, won’t it?