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Why Chinese Students Excel

Popularity 12Viewed 18300 times 2016-2-28 08:07 |Personal category:Education|System category:News| including, required, Chinese, average, evening

This is a repost from another blog that I wrote on a different website. It reflects the rigorous requirements for Chinese education and reflects why students in China excel in education as they do, especially when they come to the West for college. Education in China is not for the weak of heart. It takes a lot of hard work. I know. I see students doing it every day. It always makes me feel so proud of them to see their diligence and grit in getting their education.

The average Chinese high school (and most middle school) student lives in a dorm from Sunday night until Friday evening. In my school, they have no showers, very little heat at night and no air conditioning during the warmer months. They pay $6,000 a year (not including food) for the privilege to attend high school (they are only required to attend school through the ninth grade). High schoolers will spend 2,500 hours (that's 357 school days) in class more than their western counterparts (this does not include training classes). They often don't have gyms to have PE in or play other sports. In my school, there are 7,500 students. Classrooms are often filled with up to 70 students. They are crowded and jammed pack. They don't see their parents from Sunday night until Friday night. Nearly every student never removes their coat in class. The classes, at best, are inadequately heated. They do have the small motel-type air conditioners in the classroom during the hotter months. 

I recently heard of one Chinese English teacher who required her students to learn 50 new English words every day. The favored learning method is rote memory. I've heard many teachers brag how they can pile on enough homework to 'force' students to learn. A teacher who makes highly unreasonable demands upon students is admired by other teachers and by parents. 

As most parents have only one child and that child is expected to earn their education and get a job good enough to support their parents when they are older, there is pressure on the kid that the vast majority of American kids will never know. Teachers sometimes work until 10:30 p.m. The average pay for a teacher is about $600 a month with most having few benefits. 

Students are often in class until past 9:30 p.m. They have no television from Sunday evening until Friday evening. The gaokao (the Chinese equivalent to the SAT or ACT) lasts 3 days (the new SAT lasts 3 hours). It will determine the level of college or vocational school that the student will be allowed to attend. There's a once in a lifetime shot for most students in taking it. Majors in college must be chosen before entering college. College is said to be quite easy compared to high school. Many students want to attend college in the USA. Most parents can't afford it. The student's parents must be wealthy or the student must be extremely smart so they can win scholarships.

Chinese students who achieve in this system have discipline at the level of someone in a military academy (or better). Their chances for success in Western colleges are almost guaranteed. They know how to study. They know how to work hard. They know discipline. Most of them develop a noticeable callous near the tip of their middle finger from writing so much. Almost all of them require glasses from reading so much. Asian students are known around the world for their natural ability to excel in math, physics, technology and other sciences. They struggle with languages. On weekends, they are often enrolled in extra 'training school' classes which support their Monday through Friday studies. 

On average, I know my students will have an extra 5 hours a week added to their already 50 hours in class for the week. The students who will study in the USA go to 'cram schools' to pass their English proficiency exams (called TOEFL, SAT or IELTS) in order to get as high a score as possible to help them get accepted to the best colleges/universities. Oral English is not emphasized or deemed important in schools. This makes English reading, writing and listening far more difficult to learn. Extra weekend training classes are not limited to English. They have extra training classes for physics, math, Chinese and other subjects. Most have almost no time to pursue the arts or sports. Extracurricular activities aren't possible with the study schedules that they have.

Oh, how do I know all of this? Well, I've been knee deep into it for the past 4.5 years. I teach in China. I've taught at every level with more than 4,200 classes and several thousand students. I've taught pre-school through the eMBA program at Zhengzhou University. I've taught Chinese English teachers in weekend seminars.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report mbursian 2016-2-28 20:27
Nice article Michael.  The methods of teaching English in China must change so the students can communicate effectively, written and orally.  Listening and reading comprehension is THE major challenge for most Chinese students and that needs to be addressed in teaching.  The new SATs are changing the format of testing English with more short essays with comprehension as opposed to "fill in the blank"... even the Math section is going to include more story problems as opposed to solving equations.  The IELTS exam is changing too, because far too many students are giving memorized canned responses; not a true demonstration of their English proficiency skills.  I've always argued that schools can't sell language fluency without mastering language proficiency first... proficiency is the bridge to fluency.  Proficiency must be developed in reading, writing, comprehension and speaking.  The school I work for claims its goal is fluency, which is fine... but for primary school children that's simply not going to happen with two 90 minute lessons per week squeezed in between Olympic Math and Science lessons, and dance, art and music lessons every other day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Kids writing their English vocabulary words ten times and memorizing the text from their lesson books doesn't cut it either.  What good is it if the children cannot use it spontaneously in conversation or in particular scenarios, never mind grammatically correct.  Proficiency cannot be achieved with rote memorization, no way.  And proficiency cannot be achieved without a solid foundation and consistent practice with relevancy.  I've tutored numerous students for the IELTS and TOEFL exams at the request of my school... and I am always amazed that these student's parents seek help with their child's oral English with less than a month before the test date.  I always interview the student first to assess their proficiency level... some simple basic questions and a few short passages to read to get a grasp of their comprehension level, reading ability, and vocabulary and grammar usage and engage in a spontaneous conversation (which is usually one-sided).  I'll be frank and honest with the parents... and in almost every case, the student is ill-prepared and simply lacks basic abilities to communicate, let alone take an examination.  One cannot cram and learn intelligible oral pronunciation, the varied contexts of vocabulary and adequate grammar concepts.
Reply Report dusty1 2016-2-28 23:58
Then why are Asian students including the Chinese opting to send their children to public schools in Australia ( private schools and their high fees not worth it) because of the education system that is suited to the child.
Reply Report cmknight 2016-2-29 00:41
Can you imagine an English speaker learning only the reading and writing aspects of Mandarin, with speaking and listening relegated to once per week "afterthought" classes? The Chinese would laugh at them for their poor oral skills. Yet, they don't see the problem with learning this way when it comes to English. "Oral skills are not important" for the exams. If only they would realize the futility of this way of thinking.
Reply Report samlam 2016-2-29 09:49
Many Chinese students study hard while living in a poor condition, especially in the country, because it might be the only way for them to change their life. Students including primary and secondary students do lots of school work every day. When you lag behind it means that you are obsolete.
Reply Report TedM 2016-2-29 13:15
Chinese students have no life.  This is the comment I hear regularly. They outline the importance of family, yet force studying every hour possible, even at weekends and holidays. So. students only excel in areas where rote learning of information is required. No social learning, no initiative, no thinking involved. Succeed when they go to the west..... yes often because the education there is broad and balanced and they take with them the study ethic they learned in China.
Reply Report voice_cd 2016-2-29 15:57
Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted it in our blog homepage.
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-2-29 17:15
TedM: Chinese students have no life.  This is the comment I hear regularly. They outline the importance of family, yet force studying every hour possible, e ...
Right
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-2-29 17:15
cmknight: Can you imagine an English speaker learning only the reading and writing aspects of Mandarin, with speaking and listening relegated to once per week  ...
Good point
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-2-29 17:26
It is true that students spend long hours in the classroom as I've stated. It is also true that many depend upon rote learning and ineffective teaching/learning methods. However, long hours in the classroom, homework and other requirements are mutually exclusive of the teaching/learning methods. You can have hard work and good teaching/learning methods. The point is, the learning of discipline is the most important aspect of what they learn. Anyone who is involved in education in China should easily see that.
Reply Report cmknight 2016-3-1 00:45
MichaelM: It is true that students spend long hours in the classroom as I've stated. It is also true that many depend upon rote learning and ineffective teachin ...
" the learning of discipline is the most important aspect of what they learn."

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you here, Michael. Discipline is only one aspect of what they learn. IMHO, the most important aspect is that they are taught never to question their Chinese teachers. Why? Because this leads to "never question authority". The students are taught from a very young age that "failure is not an option". Anything less than perfection/perfect scores is failure.

Have you ever seen a student begging her father not to beat her because she only received 95% on a math test, Michael? I have ... and it's not a pretty sight.
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-3-1 14:46
cmknight: " the learning of discipline is the most important aspect of what they learn."

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you here, Michael. Discip ...
So never questioning authority is what makes them excel? Hmmm....... interesting concept.    But I respect your viewpoint. Thanks.
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-3-1 14:50
cmknight: " the learning of discipline is the most important aspect of what they learn."

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you here, Michael. Discip ...
Have you ever seen a student begging her father not to beat her because she only received 95% on a math test, Michael? I have ... and it's not a pretty sight.

No I haven't. I'm sure it is a terrible thing. I wouldn't want to see that. But that is a far different subject that what I've addressed in this blog.
Reply Report aixi 2016-3-1 22:12
TedM: Chinese students have no life.  This is the comment I hear regularly. They outline the importance of family, yet force studying every hour possible, e ...
I disagree. Chinese students DO have a life, but it is a life that is focused on what they find most important.
Chinese students want to make the most of the time they have to study and to succeed in life to have a better future.
Perhaps they have not so much time to go out with friends and waste time, but they do use their time wisely and succeed and have a bright future in the end... So why do you say they have no life, if in the end they excel and achieve the most?
Reply Report cmknight 2016-3-2 02:11
MichaelM: So never questioning authority is what makes them excel? Hmmm....... interesting concept.      But I respect your viewpoint. Thanks.
No Michael. You're putting words in my mouth. You stated that "the learning of discipline is the most important aspect of what they learn". I disagreed and said that learning to not question authority was the most important aspect of what they learn. You somehow turned that around to mean questioning authority = excel.
Reply Report TedM 2016-3-2 08:20
aixi: Thanks.  The quote "We have no life" is one I hear from students (and teachers!) very often. It is not necessarily my view, but I do feel sad about the situation. One fundamental difference between East and West is that Chinese live to work; and we work to live. Childhood is often seen as the best time of our lives, yet this is removed to a great extent by the pressure to study study study. Students I know go home on Saturday afternoon and return on Sunday afternoon. The time at home is spent on homework and private tuition so they have no family or social life, no experience of life and, more importantly no time to reflect and internalize what they have learned.  Going out with friends occasionally is not a waste of time. Children learn through play, and teenagers learn by experience. A break from study refreshes the body and the capacity and willingness to learn. There are too many Chinese students who do not excel and who feel failures because of the system here and the unrealistic expectations of parents. They have no future. But thanks for your views.
Reply Report michaeling 2016-3-5 21:27
Chinese students have, maybe, developed some unique principle of study after years or generations of "live to work" guideline, which might be in a sense very admirable, especially when the similar vigor is presented in any other worthy field, but it is really reasonable that "a break from study refreshes the body and the capacity and willingness to learn". Now more Chinese students are playing happily during their school time, such as leaving homework untouched or copying others' keys, spending much time chatting or palying games online, etc.
Reply Report AndrewCraven 2016-3-6 01:13
TedM: aixi: Thanks.  The quote "We have no life" is one I hear from students (and teachers!) very often. It is not necessarily my view, but I do f ...
You know , as a Chinese I have been through this whole process of secondary school study.
I can't agree more than you have written about. This is cruel , but a true situation which many Chinese students have /are/will face. We can't change it instantly. Without feeling sympathy for them, what else can we do? Can we change it? I am afraid not.  What we can do is to change ourselves, that is why you can see so many students are willing to study abroad. Because they saw what we saw-the defects or flaws in Chinese education. But one thing is clear , no matter what ,they excel their study compared to the counterparts in America with this aspect.
Chinese is advantaged at its labor force , but a sword has two blades, which means they have to compete with more peers to get a job for living. Have you thought about that? If they don't do this cruel thing, they will face a crueler life in the future. Living in China is harder than you think. Even at my age, I am learning English, because I want a better life , not to do meaningless work everyday and can earn more money to raise my family better,which now is still a dream of mine.
I maybe stray away from the topic a little, acodemic inflation is a phynomenon all around the world. That means we all have to sacrifice more to get a higher certificate to do the job for which a lower degree could be well fitted in the past.
Reply Report AndrewCraven 2016-3-6 01:13
TedM: aixi: Thanks.  The quote "We have no life" is one I hear from students (and teachers!) very often. It is not necessarily my view, but I do f ...
You know , as a Chinese I have been through this whole process of secondary school study.
I can't agree more than you have written about. This is cruel , but a true situation which many Chinese students have /are/will face. We can't change it instantly. Without feeling sympathy for them, what else can we do? Can we change it? I am afraid not.  What we can do is to change ourselves, that is why you can see so many students are willing to study abroad. Because they saw what we saw-the defects or flaws in Chinese education. But one thing is clear , no matter what ,they excel their study compared to the counterparts in America with this aspect.
Chinese is advantaged at its labor force , but a sword has two blades, which means they have to compete with more peers to get a job for living. Have you thought about that? If they don't do this cruel thing, they will face a crueler life in the future. Living in China is harder than you think. Even at my age, I am learning English, because I want a better life , not to do meaningless work everyday and can earn more money to raise my family better,which now is still a dream of mine.
I maybe stray away from the topic a little, acodemic inflation is a phynomenon all around the world. That means we all have to sacrifice more to get a higher certificate to do the job for which a lower degree could be well fitted in the past.
Reply Report MichaelM 2016-3-6 09:10
cmknight: No Michael. You're putting words in my mouth. You stated that "the learning of discipline is the most important aspect of what they learn".  ...
Actually just staying on the theme of why I wrote this. "Why Chinese Students Excel". But, it doesn't matter. Thanks again for your input.
Reply Report caulfield12 2016-3-9 15:59
Here are some counterarguments to MichaelM (and I say this as someone married to a Chinese woman with a one-year old, facing this decision in the future)...

1)  The Chinese system can be too strict in terms of discipline...to the point of abuse.  I've seen middle school students forced to kneel on the top of their desks or stand on one foot for long periods of time, banished to the corner or forced to stand outside the classroom, verbally and physically abused.   There's a VERY fine line that many schools are close to crossing over.

2)  Creative thinking/analytical/evaluation/debate skills are not honed.  This is especially going to be an issue as the government becomes more and more authoritative, and dissent is punished.  Basically, any question that is "grey" without a definite "correct" answer can lead to frustration because it's much harder to memorize tens of possibly correct ones.

3)  Environment/pollution

4)  Many schools are so academically-oriented (even on the weekends, with the training center/supplemental classes for IELTS/TOEFL/SAT, etc.) that students don't have enough time with their families and/or to participate in a range of activities like sports, music, art, acting/drama, etc.   Can lead to one-dimensional students if unchecked.

5) There just aren't enough opportunities for expressing citizenship through volunteer projects the younger levels, before university.  Volunteering is perceived as taking time away from valuable study, and then there's all the bureaucratic red tape involved in setting up activities and developing projects that make a real (and ongoing) difference, rather than simply showing up and presenting checks or doing PR.

6)  Sometimes I feel that having too much competition has a negative consequence because it leads to corruption, greed, cheating, etc.  You can see it in the impatience of people to wait in virtually any time, whether it's at the subway/bus, KFC/McDonald's or drivers that can't be bothered by the "right of way" concept to not cut across traffic and turn left en masse.  Part of it is the lack of values/ethics/morals education, which is related to the cult of money and/or government leaders replacing the idea of God in society.  If you don't believe in God, then China might be your cup of tea as a parent, but if you want your children to grow up learning how to be more unselfish (The Golden Rule, Ten Commandments, etc.), then the China of today or the future might not be the very best place.  You can say the same thing about Singapore, where there's an obsession about shopping and material things, even moreso than America or Europe.

7)  There's no reason that a son or daughter couldn't have the same type of educational experience growing up in Finland, which has much less pollution/traffic accidents/congestion.

8)  Wechat, online shopping, computer games...are discouraging social bonds and contact even moreso than the West.

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MichaelM

Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.

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  • Chinese Students Will Conquer English 2017-11-9 19:00

    Any English teacher worth being considered a real teacher knows this is a fact. Nothing new written here.

  • Chinese Students Will Conquer English 2017-11-7 14:35

    I understand what the English teacher said,they don‘t have time to teach speaking,when thousands of Chinese students to contend for extremely limited education resources,the intention of learning English will be changed

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