Finally, a break!


Schools are a high-pressure environment for Chinese children, demanding hours and hours of extra study sessions in subjects from mathematics to English. The system is still focused largely on rote learning, requiring students to retain vast amounts of information with little concern for developing their creative skills. In this cartoon, posted by artist Yan Peng ( 延鹏) to his QQ.com blog, a young boy is bedridden in the hospital, hooked up to an IV, but his spirits soar at the resulting respite from his grueling school work. A thought bubble over his head reads: “Now I don’t have to attend cram class after cram class. I don’t have to stay up doing my homework until midnight.” On the table beside his bed sits a backpack stuffed full of textbooks.

11 Comments to “Finally, a break!”

  1. Allan says:

    They say a picture paints a thousand words and indeed the old adage have never been more apt than in this cartoon. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  2. Allan says:

    @ Itlee

    1) Are you seriously trying to tell me that pressure is not applied at all levels of the system from school principle to teacher to parent to student? If students don’t attend cram class etc then it is noticed and frequently the students are shunned by the teachers. Not to mention that by the time they reach Uni many students view it as a break and as a result don’t put in the work. But they can still get degrees…interestingly enough.

    2) If education is simply about getting the right answer then, consider it job done. But is that what education is in it’s essence? You have avoided the issue of plagiarism.

    3) Misrepresenting what i wrote doesn’t cut it, basic geography and “common knowledge” would in actual fact comply with you point 2 “But for most of the people most of the time, the most important lesson is knowing the answer to “Will you hurt yourself if you jump off from a cliff?” ” Or in this case just having a broad base of general knowledge.

    4) a) Your answer to number 2 contradicts your answer here! and b) either was i clearly. If a student is failing in one system as per your example he/she is not an above average student in anyone’s book. But the fact that they succeed in a different system proves that the current system is flawed. (You failed to address the point made.)

  3. ltlee says:

    @AllanF
    1. What vicious circle?
    If a kid improve his performance by not going to cram school. All parents will notice?
    2. As if all above average students or Ph.Ds understand everything. Two aspects of knowledge: a) prediction or correlation. It is mostly a “yes” or a “no”. Knowing the answer means mastering this aspect of knowing. b)explanation/understanding. It exists in levels. Example. Why does the apple fall to the ground. One level of understand is “gravity.” A higher level of understanding is the “Inverse square law,” a still higher level of understanding is in equations explaining graviton, a still higher level of understanding is within the framework of unified theory.But for most of the people most of the time, the most important lesson is knowing the answer to “Will you hurt yourself if you jump off from a cliff?” He passes and he has his whole life to understand gravity at whatever level he wants to understand.
    3. To the extend that one can live without a certain knowledge, it is not common sense.
    4. I am not talking about above average students.

  4. AllanF says:

    “1) The parents are the best people to decide how far one can push a certain kid. If parents do no put their kid to cram schools, there would not be cram schools.”

    Unfortunately the reality is that the parent feel under preasure to make their kids go to these classes as the teachers feel under preasure to get results etc. And so a vicious circle is formed!

    “2) Nothing wrong to learn from each other as long as they understand how the problems were solved. How to copy is an important lesson for the real world too.”

    And the reality is that the average students doesn’t understand they just know the right answer! Secondly plagiarism is not an important lesson unless you want to cut corners, and all the ethical questions that raises.

    “3) I will differentiate between really don’t know from don’t care to know. If I am a graduate student in Math, I could be living in a totally different world of numbers and equations, why should I care about geography.”

    There is a difference between graduate studies and specialisation at an advanced level and basic common knowledge, you are comparing apples and oranges here.

    “4) If you meant to say that many top Chinese do not live up to their potential, I agree. At the same time, many more who failed their college entrance exam from mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong are doing very well in American universities.Two factors: Rote learning enables them to concentrate and group study as you had mentioned.”

    My point is more about the average student, the top students will always succeed one way or an other. In fact your point about failed students succeeding in other education systems only serves to enforce the argument that the system as it is in the mainland is flawed.

  5. ltlee says:

    1) The parents are the best people to decide how far one can push a certain kid. If parents do no put their kid to cram schools, there would not be cram schools.
    2) Nothing wrong to learn from each other as long as they understand how the problems were solved. How to copy is an important lesson for the real world too.
    3) I will differentiate between really don’t know from don’t care to know. If I am a graduate student in Math, I could be living in a totally different world of numbers and equations, why should I care about geography.
    4) If you meant to say that many top Chinese do not live up to their potential, I agree. At the same time, many more who failed their college entrance exam from mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong are doing very well in American universities.Two factors: Rote learning enables them to concentrate and group study as you had mentioned.
    On the issue of childhood deprivation, I had posted the following in another forum some years ago: https://groups.google.com/group/soc.culture.taiwan/msg/2ec7be7db6968f4d? You can check that out if you are interested.

  6. AllanF says:

    @ ltlee:
    I don’t think anyone anywhere would deny the value of rote learning and as quite rightly said it is the foundation, however i think at most people, both here in China and in the rest of the world would argue that there must be balance. Not only in how much they absorb via rote learning but more importantly how much they truly understand. The level of pressure and the amount of homework these kids get is actually self defeating as 1) There is a limit to how much they absorb. 2) They actually learn “guanxi” more than the subject ie. they work in teams and each member of the team is given a subject that they do for the other members. 3) They specialise in subject to the extent that they know little outside their field. (I have met Qinghua University Grads who didn’t know where Russia was! Not to mention grads. from other less prestigious Unis). Furthermore I have seen too many kids here who self harm to say that the education system here was healthy or even effective. You can argue that they produce good students and at high school level i would concur, indeed high school students are sough after in Western Universities, the same can not be said about University Graduates. Due to the pressure these kids are under by the time they get to uni they see it as a break and don’t study. When it should be the time that they are enthusiastic about learning. It is also quite clear that most Chinese people don’t like the current system of education as those who can afford it ship their kids off to other countries to give their kids “a better education”.

    And last but not least, shouldn’t children have a childhood? They have the rest of their lives to be stressed why not give them a few short years of happiness?

  7. ltlee says:

    Rote learning is too often maligned.
    In reality, rote learning is the foundation of all other learning. How can one learn higher mathematics if he cannot memorize the multiplication table? Doing well in sciences and
    engineering requires calculus which in turn means one has to master the 100-200 equations at the front and back inside covers of all college level calculus books. Without mastering these equations, it will take forever to solve otherwise relatively simple problems.
    Secondly, intelligence is a matter of brain function. Neuroscientists specialized on brain plasticity have discovered that human brains’ higher level functionality follows the principle of “use it or lose it.” Rote learning is a good way to tax the brain’s capability and stretch it while one is young. And keeping the brain fit while one is getting old.
    Another aspect of rote learning is related to the purpose of education. Of course, education is about human development. But another equally important goal of all educational systems is selecting future leaders for the society. Rote learning is an efficient tool because it
    reflects the end result of two factors: Innate intelligence endowment and personal
    motivation. For country with large populations such as China and India. The selective function of education would be more important than the developmental function of education.

  8. arist says:

    sorry, I correct myself a little. Chinese people would be much poorer without websites like this.

  9. arist says:

    I like this website ! Chinese people would be much poorer without this website.

  10. David says:

    Kevin:

    Ah, that’s FAR better. “Cram” it is. Here in Hong Kong it’s Kumon.

    Best,
    David

  11. Thanks again for great website.

    Here, “cram school” is a better translation than “remedial class”.

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