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CSC needs a paradigm shift: The woes of African students in China

Popularity 4Viewed 13027 times 2015-9-29 11:37 |System category:News| China

China’s trade and assistance to Africa within the past two decades surpasses that of Europe and America combined and that is not debatable- China has done far more for the continent economically than all of Africa’s Western trading partners combined.

 

Some critics argue that despite China’s tremendous assistance to countries in Africa, the scale is still not balance; they opine that economies of scale haven’t been achieved in the highly promoted partnership. Nonetheless, most African countries are comfortable and appreciate their partnerships in trade agreements with China. However, one area of China’s policy towards Africa that has come under constant scrutiny is the grey area of education.

 

Critics of Chinese policies in Africa assert that China awards scholarships to students from African countries based on trade deals. They agree that the intention is good but little is achieved from such schemes. Most students especially those offered majors in science and medicine return home and are tagged as half-baked doctors and therefore go through very stringent exams and procedures before given permission to practice. Some countries have totally refused to allow undergraduates to study in China and prefer scholarships for only post-graduate students who are enrolled in English-taught majors, matured and able to resist the lures of the extravagant lifestyle of some foreign students in China.

 

As seen in recent reports, China is among the front-runners for foreigners choosing to study abroad. The mainland is the third largest recipient of foreign students according to a 2013-2014 reports. Most foreign students before entry into China are fascinated about all the news going round in international circles about China’s astronomical rise. They choose to study in China knowing that the environment and culture including the language are different but unaware of the unforeseeable challenges that awaits them. They come to China holding dear to the promises of good education and a shot at life but some dreams are shattered badly on the way, mainly due to the language barrier.

 

Undergraduate Students, mostly from African countries have had their scholarships discontinued after a year or two (that is a lot of time wasted) basically because they can’t simply compete with their Chinese counterparts due to the language barrier. The sad part is most of these students are awarded scholarships because they are smart and distinguished students; however their lack of proficiency in Chinese becomes a major setback on their road to success. All undergraduate students according to Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC) policy are required to offer their major courses in Chinese after a one-year Chinese language course.

 

That is a one-year language course with vacations and Chinese National holidays in between- that makes up to at most 9 months of intensive language tuition. Any foreigner, even an old China hand who has studied Chinese language would truthfully admit that one cannot study a language as difficult as Chinese for only a year and compete with native Chinese students in an exam that requires theoretical reasoning. It’s simply impossible. This has rendered the majority of foreign students who cannot achieve this task the laughing stock of Chinese friends and professors. For students coming from French, Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, the situation is even more worrisome- they’ll have to go through a series of translations from Chinese to English and from English to for example French, Spanish or whichever language they speak.

 

I will emphasize here that the one-year intensive language course is sufficient to enable students easily communicate with locals and go about their daily activities but insufficient for theoretical reasoning that requires a lot of research and proficiency in certain terminologies that are often not taught in language schools. Then again, the majority of students easily pass the required proficiency test HSK, but looks all dumb and confused when the real lectures begin. Those who don’t pass the proficiency test after subsequent sittings are sent home.


Even the smartest students who pass the test go through a hell of a time trying to make meaning of what is being taught in class. This is where the fittest survive. Most lecturers and professors understand their predicament and assist them whichever possible way they could. The weak ones just fall apart and give up.

 

There isn’t much time to apportion blame. That would be counterproductive. However, the focus here (paradigm shift) cannot be fully achieved without noting what is unintentionally been ignored by CSC due to the herculean task of managing students from different countries and cultures across the globe. The Council since its inception has done a tremendous job and deserves praise and commendation. It has single handedly integrated more foreigners into Chinese society and educational system than any other organization in China - further strengthening China’s opening up policy in education and cultural exchange.

 

What can be done however, to remedy a worsening situation is to identify the most salient problem, already mentioned above (language barrier) and strategize on how to rectify this anomaly so that students who have not yet become victims would be spared. Failure to do so would amount to inconsistencies in China’s policy to assist in the training of Africa’s future leaders, leaders whom the continent would look up to, to kick-start its industrial revolution.

 

I’m using African students as a case study simply because the majority of foreign students who pursue undergraduate courses in China are from Africa- very few students from South East Asia, Asia Pacific, South America, and other European countries (virtually none) pursue undergrad courses in China. All other foreign students mostly Americans, Europeans, and others specifically major in Chinese language and culture. 


So the question is; what exactly is CSC not doing that it can do to improve the Chinese government scholarship scheme. And by so doing transform the dreams of international students under scholarships into realities when they return home.

 

  1. CSC should start listening to student’s grievances.

First of all, most students are scared to death to make direct contact with CSC even through the right channels because of being victimized by their host institutions. This issue is very dicey and a student would do so at his or her own peril. When a bold student left with no other choice goes ahead to make their grievances known to CSC, they either get no response and when they do, they’re directed back to the host institution which further threatens students with expulsion and in some cases expelled.

 

  1. CSC should encourage host institutions to assist excellent students with internship opportunities

We all know the importance of internships- learning on the job. Hardly does anyone, even post-graduate students get the opportunity to intern at institutions where they can have a hands-on experience. A few do, but not undergrad students. Because of the language barrier, they barely grab anything in class. All they rely on are the English course books they buy online and online content (resulting in a lot of plagiarized term papers and thesis).

 

Secondly, most undergrads are not familiar with the research method. They hardly understand the process. So what can be done to help excellent students who are eager to make the best of their studies in China is for CSC to implore host institutions to identify such students for internship opportunities under the assumption that a few students given such opportunities could make a world of difference. 


3 The language problem

I’m not against undergrad students offering their majors in Chinese even though it is hurting a sizable proportion of undergrad students under Chinese government scholarship. That is the policy and a major pre-condition before acceptance of a scholarship. It’s a take it or leave it condition and not debatable as most students later realize.

 

But is it in the right direction when a program meant to train scholars who can compete in this current rigid international economy isn’t achieving its full potential because of a nationalistic policy to indoctrinate international students. The way forward without scrapping this policy as I see it, is to re-design the language programs in a way where the course bends at least 70 percent towards a student major course. Without this shift, international students especially medical doctors from China would be watched eyes-wide-open in the operating room. 

 

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


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Reply Report KIyer 2015-9-30 17:45
A difficult issue as you point out. Learning a very different language system as an adult is very difficult and difficult to do within an year. Do you think that if the scholarships were used to support Students in Africa itself, in its best institutions, with perhaps Chinese also being taught in Africa would help the students benefit better? What are the best institutions for professional training in Africa? Should China get more involved in them directly?
Reply Report seanboyce88 2015-10-1 10:17
I am doing my PhD here in China in education. I relate to everything you said here.

There is no integration between university and work placements back home, the university barely helps you out at all in terms of trying to find work. For that you are on your own (Although to be fair, the Chinese students have it almost as bad, I think it's just an educational problem)

They should listen to grievances...but they don't. I know of students from my university who have sent evidence of favouritism, documented evidence of corruption, bullying...and there was no reply...

Finally, the language barrier. I get off easy being a PhD student (No exams, not too many classes) but even then, I have some teachers who just don't appreciate that there are foreigners in the class (around 11 of us in total, to 13 Chinese). He speaks with the strongest dongbei accent I have ever seen, even some of the Chinese students struggle to understand. We have other teachers who speak so fast, I can't even see their tongue move and when asked to slow down they just tut.

But the Chinese education system needs a revamp in general, it is an absolute mess, falling apart at the seems.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2015-10-1 10:20
My Favourite story, sorry I forgot to post this...

My friend from Ghana couldn't graduate last year initially as they didn't like his dissertation. It was on the mutual trade of Ghana and China and how they compliment each other or something along those lines. His teacher REFUSED to pass him as it seemed like Ghana helped China. He argued that in many ways Ghana does contribute to China....the teacher said if he handed that in, he would be failed.

We also had a russian student asked to blatantly lie about trade volumes between her island and Japan to make Japan look less involved.
Reply Report Newtown 2015-10-1 11:46
seanboyce88: I am doing my PhD here in China in education. I relate to everything you said here.

There is no integration between university and work placements b ...
"He speaks with strongest dongbei accent I have ever seen"

Wow if you can "see" his then accent God knows what it sounds like !
Mind you I quite like Dongbei food, at least for its smell and taste.
Reply Report Newtown 2015-10-1 11:48
seanboyce88: I am doing my PhD here in China in education. I relate to everything you said here.

There is no integration between university and work placements b ...
"English-based majors, matured and..."

Matured like what, wine or cheese ?
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2015-10-1 19:49
seanboyce88: I am doing my PhD here in China in education. I relate to everything you said here.

There is no integration between university and work placements b ...
I understand your frustrations.  And think that the article contains a lot of good suggestions.  I will only quibble with your comment  that the Chinese education system is an absolute mess.  Evidence suggests that this is not true (although it is popular to say so).  Look at how many Chinese students are accepted at first class foreign institutions, that alone would suggest that something good is happening to them before they go abroad.  My students are really great and doing well (but I have just moved to a top school).

    And keep in mind that not all Chinese schools operate in the same way.  There are different kinds of high schools, for example.  Anyway, best of luck in solving any difficulties you have!
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2015-10-1 19:50
Great  article, extremely well written, with lots of good, thoughtful suggestions!  Give us more!
Reply Report seanboyce88 2015-10-1 22:15
Newtown: "He speaks with strongest dongbei accent I have ever seen"

Wow if you can "see" his then accent God knows what it sounds like !
M ...
  

They are quite active with their hands when they speak  

Yeah I never really thought that sentence through
Reply Report Newtown 2015-10-1 22:21
And what exactly do they do with their hands when they're not speaking ? I bet your one of those crafty students who builds a 'great wall' of textbooks on their desk then hides behind them to have a snooze, get the mobile going, squeeze out a pimple on your chin, check your moustache in the mirror etc. while the non-mellifluous dongbei drone drones on.
Reply Report eddieturkson 2015-10-2 09:39
PatrickInBeijin: Great  article, extremely well written, with lots of good, thoughtful suggestions!  Give us more!
    thanks
Reply Report eddieturkson 2015-10-2 09:55
KIyer: A difficult issue as you point out. Learning a very different language system as an adult is very difficult and difficult to do within an year. Do you ...
You talked of Chinese being taught in Africa....f rom my research years ago, there are a few in African basically learning African culture nd sociology related topics geared towards understanding the continent but mind you they're taught in English and not Swahili. In Kenya, and some other regions the Chinese government supports education as in like you mentioned directly providing scholarship to students to study in their own institutions, but 95 percent is through the Confucius institute- which means Chinese language and culture all the way
Reply Report eddieturkson 2015-10-2 10:04
seanboyce88: I am doing my PhD here in China in education. I relate to everything you said here.

There is no integration between university and work placements b ...
Yeah Sean, that's true, the accent......that is very very confusing- to be taught putonghua and then you start classes and the professor speaks a totally different Chinese accent or dialect- you turn around to your Chinese classmate for some explanation and some are more confused than you are.....
Reply Report eddieturkson 2015-10-2 10:08
Newtown: "English-based majors, matured and..."

Matured like what, wine or cheese ?
Like tofu
Reply Report seanboyce88 2015-10-2 10:18
Newtown: And what exactly do they do with their hands when they're not speaking ? I bet your one of those crafty students who builds a 'great wall' of textbook ...
Actually, I am usually either arguing with other students about a definition or reading something else as I don't understand the current teacher. I download all my books on the kindle, means I don't have to carry them everywhere and it has a built in translator as I still find Chinese difficult, in particular the Chinese academic language.
Reply Report Newtown 2015-10-2 10:23
seanboyce88: Actually, I am usually either arguing with other students about a definition or reading something else as I don't understand the current teacher. I do ...
You think that's tough, I grew up in't hole in road.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2015-10-3 20:12
PatrickInBeijin: I understand your frustrations.  And think that the article contains a lot of good suggestions.  I will only quibble with your comment  that the Chine ...
The best hyperbole is used in angry rants haha  

Yeah, it's not a complete mess, you are right. I was being dramatic, but it does have a lot of issues.
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2015-10-5 12:40
seanboyce88: The best hyperbole is used in angry rants haha   

Yeah, it's not a complete mess, you are right. I was being dramatic, but it does have a lot o ...
That is true, but I'm American, and nobody has more educational issues than the USA!!  Except maybe Britain where a recent article suggests that  50% of teachers plan to quit in the next two years!  The USA is fighting over money, class size, privatization plans, cost of education and whether the whole thing is worth it.  Hmm, what are we not fighting over?  Makes China look peaceful!  LOL.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2015-10-5 14:22
PatrickInBeijin: That is true, but I'm American, and nobody has more educational issues than the USA!!  Except maybe Britain where a recent article suggests that  50%  ...
I think also we must consider what level of education we are talking about.

In terms of tertiary education, I do feel China is massively lacking. Having not been through the primary r secondary education systems in China I couldn't really comment.

As for the British education system, funding cuts are hitting it harder and harder, and the social divide is getting bigger with more and more private schools starting to open up...
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2015-10-12 19:57
Hi Sean, for some reason your reply didn't show up for a week.  So, I am late in talking back.  The US and Britain do seem determined to race each other for the bottom.  Sigh.  I have just started teaching grad students in science, and they seem
pretty bright and determined to me.  I think it may depend on your department or your school.  I am not sure that many schools really know what to do with foreign language students, for instance.  But in terms of science, hmm, they seem pretty together.

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