CHINA: Stuffing the Duck

ASIA MEDIA STAFF WRITES – China’s school system is recognized as the most rigorous in the world. In an education survey run by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Shanghai teens scored the highest in the international education ranking . After 12 years of dedication, all seniors in China need to participate in the gaokao (college entrance exam). Their score will not only determine which school they go to, but what their future will be like.

The entrance exam is described as a stampede of “thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of horses across a single log bridge.” In other words, the world of college admissions is extremely competitive. However, domestic universities in China are known for what is deemed “narrow admissions, wide exit”, which is in contrast to American colleges who have “easy admission, tough exit.” The education system in China is normally described as “stuffing the duck,” which means that students learn by passively accepting what they’ve been taught. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba and the 2nd richest billionaire in China, claims that China’s biggest problem is lack of innovation and discourages students to mess around, have fun, and experiment in what they have learnt outside of the classroom.

Zhangming, a professor at People’s University in Beijing, published a book titled Is Chinese Education Sick? In it, Zhang argues his viewpoints on Chinese universities and says that they implement a system of rules, regulations, measurements, and assessments, and serve more as bureaucratized administration than an integrating learning center. One of his chapters, “University Professors Who Have No Culture,” argues that professors have expertise in limited areas of research rather than in broader subjects. Zhang also criticized a number of Chinese universities that are obsessed with making their school yiliu (first rate) because Chinese people believe that if they attend big name schools they are guaranteed to fair better in the job market after graduation.

In the 1930’s and 40’s, Chinese universities produced “master teachers.” Today, however, universities are less serious in breeding real scholars in terms of knowledge and ability. Even in a top 10 university in China, administrators would hire a less qualified instructor with more guanxi (networking) prowess than a wise “master teacher.” It is alleged that many of these unqualified scholars would buy someone else’s academic paper in order to meet the published articles requirement.

Although Chinese students study extremely hard in order to get into universities, once they get there, they stop working. Video games have become primary “educational content” for male students. In Chinese college dorm life, you will rarely see students reading or discussing philosophy. Instead they will be focused on their computers playing online games. Many of them play religiously for four years, often sleeping in and missing class due to all-nighters spent on the internet. Girls binge-watch Korean dramas and other shows one episode after another. Chinese universities are described as some of the easiest times of an individual’s life – all you have to do is eat, sleep, play, and fall in love. Male students earn a degree in “Too Much Gaming” with a minor in “Awkward.” After all, when your only friend is a computer, you forget how to socialize with others. Female students, on the other hand, earn a their degrees in “Korean Dramas” with a minor in “Daydreaming of Romance.”

Not all students are goofing around in college. Some still study very hard to get into a masters program or work diligently hunting for jobs. Unfortunately, few students study hard for the sake of knowledge or to better serve their people and their country. 80 percent of China’s rich parents plan to send their children to study abroad, compared to the 1 percent wealthy Japanese parents according to Xinhua News.

If Chinese citizens cannot trust their own education system, how can China expect to keep up with the rest of the world in the innovated 21st century?


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