Archive for June, 2013


June 25, 2013

I’ve said earlier that the GaoKao is scary. It’s the exams that assess entry into Chinese universities, and the pressure on kids is huge. Areas round school go into police cordoned lock-down, ¬†with cellphone masts being cut, and parents sending “Do well or die” vibes over the school walls.

Anyhow, the kids got their results Monday. I’m assuming that if my province is anything like what I expect, 80,000 – 100,000 here kids took the exam this year, and the school in which my centre is based got 5 of the 10 best marks in the province. That has to be remarkable doesn’t it? I mean they didn’t have 1 kid in the top 0.01% of students provincially, but 5. And that’s not a particularly good year, by all accounts they get between 5 and 7 of the to 10 every year.

I wish I could say that my students are just as talented, but I can’t. Some are clever, but they aren’t that clever. Our redeeming feature isn’t the great number of A* grades we get. It’s that we get the kids to think. The GaoKao tests how much information the students can learn by rote. We teach them the usefulness and importance of thinking. GaoKao kids can’t give you a good “Why’s that important?” answer for toffee. And that’s why I’ll always argue our kids are better than the GaoKao nerd herd. This is the 21st Century. Since when has memorisation been the best way to prepare kids in today’s environment. I mean these bright GaoKao kids can recite the textbook, but our kids will become leaders. Not because they’re cleverer, but because we’ve got them intellectually close to GaoKao kids, and given them the guts to “step up” in an argument.

On the subject of Chinese Staffing…….

June 24, 2013

Trust me when I say that when the Chinese get efficient, they’ll be scary. I say this not because of all the paperwork you have to fill in here. It’s horrendous, trust me on that, it’s still more to do with staffing.

I hopped in a car-cum-minicab recently to get into town, and he stopped off at a petrol station on the way. I won’t say it’s inefficient because they had people to fill your car working on the forecourt (I remember New Jersey having the same thing at one stage). I will say they’re inefficient though for the number they had.

This was your little 8 pump forecourt, and they had 4 fillers taking money off customers. There’s no two ways about it. That HAS to be inefficient.

Staffing In China

June 11, 2013

In the West, you hear all this stuff about China being a communist society that part of you starts to think that there must be a degree of egalitarianism here. It isn’t. I’ve been here approaching 3 years now, and it isn’t really. It might have been in the past, but I suspect that people here are becoming more self centred.

One of the issues that you do see here (which might tie into equality) is over-staffing. As an example, there are “bike parkers.” These people don’t park your mopeds for you. They aren’t valets. They’re thereto tell you where to park your scooters. At one stage last week there were 7 outside the 2 major supermarkets in the area. I kid you not, and their main job is to say where to part you bike. Even if you assume we need these people(and I suspect we don’t, even if the typical Chinese driver’s crazy), seven is too much. They needed two at the outside if they’re honest.

I wish I could say that this staffing issue was an equality issue (i.e. “Let’s give people jobs”), but it’s not. I think it’s more to do with the fact that people are seen as somewhere between cheaper and more expendable than machines, and that sort of depresses me.

GaoKao always impresses me as being surreal.

June 5, 2013

The GaoKao is the Chinese university entrance examination. It’s a really intense experience for any kid who has any chance of doing (even remotely) well academically.

Put simply, the students do exams in Chinese, a foreign language (usually English it seems), Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and History over a 2 day period. This year it’s on Thursday 6th and Friday 7th of June, and the pressure on the kids is huge. The whole “One Child ” policy, combined with the fact that their lives won’t be that great if they don’t do well means they’re aware of the potential downside if they fail.

Our school is a host school for the GaoKao. This means that the students run round like crazy, trying to get the school in ship shape. The process is amusing to foreigners, because Chinese classrooms are a pigsty from about the third day of the year. The kids seem unwilling to use their lockers (the result is desks piled high with books -their heads poking up from behind them), and always smell of takeaways. In short, they’re a pigsty, and Western teachers hate how their Chinese counterparts let the kids treat the classroom. We run a constant running battle out make our rooms better (but after 9 years of “anything goes” it’s hard).

The preparation process involves the students removing every scrap of evidence that the room is a classroom (save the blackboards), nailing 2 nails into the wall (presumably for a clock, but I’m not sure, and I’m not sure why they have to do that every year), making the floors spotless, and having a man come round to check if the desks and chairs are stable, and are exactly 80cm apart (they seem to make rulers that length especially for GaoKao), and 20cm from the wall.

What gets my goat about that is if there’s even the slightest issue, the chair or desk is replaced. I wouldn’t mind but our parents pay 36x more than the parents of the “main school” kids (yes 36x more), and yet you can guarantee that our stuff won’t work, and trying to get it replaced requires a stubbornness about things that boarders on dogmatism.

On the day of the exam itself, the kids and staff are turfed out (noone’s allowed on site), the police block access to the road, cellphone masts are turned off (to prevent cheating) and parents congregate in areas round the school sending “Do well or you die” vibes to their children.

So all in all, the experience is strange, and the pressure intense. We had a child commit suicide our first year here, because of the pressure placed on him from pretty much everyone and his dog.