Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Endless Things to Say About Education

Just like any parent, I have endless things to say on the topic of education, specifically Chinese education. I am not an expert in either field but would like to share my experiences, thoughts, and knowledge with you. I also have many questions about these issues and hope to get answers from our readers.

First, everyone is aware of the importance that the Chinese place on their children’s education. I would like to share this article with you about a 5 year old girl’s education in Beijing. As you see in this article, unlike kids in the US who go to boarding schools beginning from middle school, it is a common practice for Chinese parents to send their children to such schools at a much younger age. Of course, not all the best schools are boarding schools, but this is a perfect example of the stress that Chinese parents place on their children regarding education. Nowadays, Chinese children not only spend about seven hours every day in school, but also about two hours finishing their homework. In addition, many children go to different classes to learn piano, swimming, karate (yes, not Kungfu) Olympics math, Oxford English, you name it, everything that can keep children learning, learning and learning! These kids are lucky if they can finish everything by 9 p.m. This routine is common to almost all children in cities across China. There is very little recreational time left for them.

When I was young, we also had to study very hard, with long school hours and lots of homework that consisted of endless math drills and Chinese character practice. But at least there were no piano, swimming, karate, Olympic math, and Oxford English classes, and of course, there was no TV either, so I had quite a lot of time to play games such as jump rope, Ping-Pong, badminton, hopscotch and more. Unfortunately, these days, I don’t see children in China playing such things anymore. They either study endless hours, or they play GameBoys and watch TV in their little spare time.

Having witnessed my son growing up in the American educational system, I often wonder which one is better and if we can combine the better parts of two educations. American education encourages children to learn not only from textbooks, classes and homework, but applies these methods in such a way that they can also be fun, engaging, creative and open-minded – all the things we have not yet learned in China. Yet, sometimes, I also wonder if all these fun activities can really build solid foundations in which children can grow up to be successful in the workplace and compete in a competitive global environment. Then I look at every advanced technology and innovations worldwide and notice that the majority of them are American-invented. So I really don’t know if I should push my son toward Chinese or American education. How will my son compete when he grows up if he doesn’t learn basic math skills at school? Or when he feels that a half-hour’s homework is too much, and if he thinks that writing a Chinese character 10 times to memorize it is considered suffering. If only he went through what I did with writing whole pages of them in grid-books. Oh, I have not mentioned, he attends one of the best public schools in the city, he does get some fours (not all fours as I wished) in his report cards, and he always gets 90+ for his Chinese tests. (Of course, I would be even happier if he gets 100. I know I am very Chinese in this perspective, even though I do believe learning Chinese should be fun!) I have been discussing these issues with my Chinese and American friends and still have not found all the answers. I guess I will know it when he grows up, and hopefully it won’t be too late.