By Martin Burrett (Extract)
The crowds have gathered and line the street. Latecomers dash across the pavement and join the heaving mass. Behind the gate there are whistles and shouts as lines are made with military precision. The sound of the electronic bell drifts through the air as the gate of Number 10 Elementary School in the South-East Chinese city of Fuzhou slides open, releasing waves of the three thousand students to their waiting parents and grandparents who fill the street.
China is a country of superlatives and the rapid rise of China is rarely out of the headlines. But there is a seismic shift coming in the Chinese education system and for the hundreds of millions of children and students that attend schools and colleges across the country. Until recently the Chinese education system had not changed greatly for a thousand years. But now Chinese government, in a bid to diversify the country’s economy, is looking to the west for inspiration and innovation to develop its education system and change is happening at a ferocious pace. But what are the challenges and what can we learn from the Sleeping Dragon?
The Chinese schooling system is separated into similar stages as the UK. Nursery, more commonly translated as kindergarten, begins at 2 years of age, but this is optional and usually provided by private companies. The first mandatory schooling is primary school, but there is a staggered starting age of 5-7 years old, which is decided by the child’s family. This is a legacy of China agricultural past and this is largely dependant on the economic circumstances of the parents, as many children help with their family business from a young age. However, the vast majority of children begin school as soon as they are able in modern China. At the end of six years of primary school the children sit written exams in Chinese, Maths and English as a foreign language. These tests decide which classes they will attend at the next stage of their schooling.
Next children progress to middle school with three years of Junior Middle School (similar to secondary school in the UK) and then, if their exam grades are good enough, three years of Senior Middle School until around the age of 18. At the end of senior schooling student sit the Gao Kou or National Higher Education Entrance Examination, which determines whether they can go to University and what ‘major’ of degree they can study.
Every university student has to take some basic courses to ensure they have a rounded education and English is one area which is studied by all university students.
The Chinese school day is structured a little differently from that of the UK. Each day the children arrive at school at 7:30am. On Monday mornings all the staff and students gather around the school flag pole for the flag raising ceremony. The national anthem is played through loud speakers and the Principal addresses the crowd with news about the week ahead. The students have classes until 9:30am and have a break until 10:10am when every student takes part in the marvel that is the Chinese school en masse exercise programme – Several thousand pupils in neat rows of ascending age performing a series of perfectly synced, choreographed movements in time to regulation military music and counting from the speakers.
Lessons continue until lunch which begins at around 11am. Just like in the UK, children living close to the school opt to have lunch at home, while others eat at school. Lunch time is usually longer in China than we are used to. In most parts of China it becomes very hot in summer, so it is the custom to take a nap and return to school at around 1pm. Younger children leave school at around 3:30pm, but even by the age of 10-11 the students have classes as late as 5pm.
Homework is given in almost every lesson resulting in around 2-3 hours nightly for upper Elementary pupils and older. A teacher can expect to receive over a hundred pieces of homework to mark every day, not to mention work produced in class…
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