A BBC documentary in which a group of Chinese teachers take over classes at one of the UK’s top comprehensive schools for a month has sparked discussion over the benefits and failures of the notoriously strict and test-driven schooling system in China.
In the show “Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School“, five teachers from China led 50 year-nine students at the Bohunt School in Liphook, Hampshire for four weeks in an experiment meant to test Chinese teaching methods on British students.
This meant not only a more disciplined class structure, but also longer school days. Students wore those sexless tracksuit uniforms, attended class at 7:00 a.m., learned through drilling and repetition, and, yes, even participated in those (arguably useless) group eye exercises students in China are always seen doing.
The results were… kind of what you’d expect. Chinese teachers complained that students were misbehaved and lacked motivation, while the British teachers attributed this to the Chinese teachers’ “mind-numbingly boring” class lessons.
In a BBC report, Bohunt head teacher Neil Strowger explained:
[…] as early as the second day reports were coming in that the pupils were behaving badly – disengaged with the lessons, chatting and not listening to their teachers.
Chinese teaching methods were on a collision course with teenage British culture and values. Our pupils are used to being able to ask questions of the teacher – they expect their views to be considered with respect.
Furthermore, British pupils expect to have variety in their learning. They are not used to being incarcerated in a large group and in the same classroom studying a very narrow curriculum.
Chinese teachers, on the other hand, argued that Britain’s generous welfare handouts have resulted in students becoming “idle” and lacking ambition.
“Even if they don’t work, they can get money, they don’t worry about it,” said Wei Zhao, who spent 14 years teaching in China.
“But in China they can’t get these things so they know, ‘I need to study hard, I need to work hard to get money to support my family’.”
Both parties, however, saw benefits to the other’s teaching style.
“You have different syllabuses to suit different students’ ability. We don’t. We have one syllabus, one standard; you survive or you die. It’s up to you,” said Yang Jun, a science teacher from Xi’an.
“I believe that a longer school day would have value for our pupils and that teachers should not on occasion be afraid of delivering monologues in the classroom,” head teacher Strowger remarked.
“It is, however, abundantly clear to me that Chinese parents, culture and values are the real reasons that Shanghai Province tops the oft-cited Pisa tables rather than superior teaching practice,” he added, referencing results of an international test which had actually been discredited.