Teach your children well: Life is more than school

Allison Zhu
Each parent wants their child to get ahead, but in this race, nobody wins. Our youth are responsible for real-world, not just examination, problems.
Allison Zhu

A one-time payment of 70,000 yuan (US$10,508) for seven years of classes. That is the recent investment a parent made to an English tutoring center for her child, as reported by Hunan Daily.

Parents of primary and secondary students with the means to are filling their children’s summer vacations with tutoring classes. As of the end of last year, the number of private education centers in Pudong had reached 205, the most of any district in Shanghai, according to a local media report. For these students, rushing from one class to another, summer vacation can be more stressful than their academic year.

Some are taking sports or music, but most are in classes that supplement the subjects required for entrance examinations. It is said this “getting ahead” frenzy was created by a growing anxiety among parents, but these parents would disagree and place the blame on increased competition in examinations.

Entrance examinations cover material taught in primary and secondary school. Course materials follow a set schedule, so naturally students who study ahead over the summer demonstrate a higher proficiency than students new to the material. Come time for testing, their hard work over the summer likely reflects in their scores.

Each parent wants their child to get ahead, but in this race, nobody wins.

Every step a student takes, other students work harder, run faster. And once they all cross the finish line, or pass the final college entrance examination (known as gaokao), some students come to a crashing stop.

No longer under the entrance examination pressure, burnt-out students lose the drive they had in their primary and secondary years and turn to social media and video games in the more relaxed university environment, as criticized by the People’s Daily in a recent report. While Chinese universities are “strict-entry, loose-exit,” many foreign universities are “loose-entry, strict-exit.” Drop out rates in foreign top-tier universities are generally around 10 percent, as daily performance, final examinations, senior theses, and students’ work ethic all factor into their ability to graduate.

Many students find themselves at a loss of direction and inspiration, when their long-term goal, passing the gaokao, has been achieved.

One of my colleagues’ son is interested in studying medicine, but his gaokao score did not meet the higher cut-off for medical students at the university he wants to attend. He could have studied medicine at a lower-ranking university, but in spending all of high school studying for the gaokao, he hadn’t left time to find out if he’s actually good at medicine. So, he selected another major at the higher-ranking school.

China’s stated long-term plan from now to 2049 is a scientific path of development. If China’s youth choose their paths based on test scores, and not on their talents or the needs of the country, then lose their passion for learning in university, how is China supposed to reach this goal?

China is badly in need of domestic products, infrastructure, and talents in the technology industry. Our youth are responsible for real-world, not just examination, problems.

College is for fostering lifelong learning. A solid test score, secure job, and substantial paycheck are all important, but not if, on the way, the motivation to learn is lost.

Through testing, students in China grasp, at a young age, strong learning and critical thinking habits that many students in other countries have yet to develop. But then beyond testing and schooling, they must have self-motivation and their own paths for lifelong learning. Once this is achieved, China may indeed find the technological talents she is thirsty for.

The author is an intern with Shanghai Daily.

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