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Educational Pressure in China:
A Parent’s Perspective

By Lea Xu

EducationalRecently, there has been a rash of young people in China committing suicide. It is a tragedy and people are discussing why this happens, especially since it resulted from minor school difficulties.  One was a girl and one was a boy.  The boy climbed to the 32nd floor of a building and jumped out. He had gotten in trouble with the teacher and the teacher had him stand at the back of the room for hours.   The girl killed herself -- two things happened for her -- she did poorly on a regular test, and then she got in trouble with her teacher for using her cell phone at school. 

In past generations, like my parent’s generations, times were tough – very tough – people were starving. The older generation might say, “Oh these kids need to toughen up.”  I disagree with that.  It’s not that simple to solve.  Yes, our parent’s generation became strong because they went through difficult times– but being tougher isn’t the solution.

In my opinion, we need to care more about the kids’ emotions, not just the tests and how well they do by judging their test score.  The education system in China needs reform. Everything is focused on doing well on the three “big” tests, which determine a young person’s future.  Teachers teach towards students doing well on the test.  The first big one is in the 6th grade, which determines your middle school. 

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The next is the 9th grade test, which determines which high school you can attend. Then, of course, there is the famous “gaokao” test, which is the single factor that determines one to get into a university. Also, the score a young person gets on the gaokao will also determine what course of study a young person is allowed to pursue.  

I was recently hearing from my girl’s teacher that it is good that everyone takes a test and that test determines your future chance at a good life and “success” which is fair from her standpoint.    She says it is okay to sacrifice anything for a child’s successful future.  By successful future, she means a good job and good salary.  I totally disagree.   Making good money is not happiness.  I have talked with my girls and they agree with me, it is not worth health, play time and childhood in order to get the perfect score.

EducationalCompetition is so much of a part of everyday life in China; it is highly encouraged.  Each child’s scores with their first and last names are listed on a sheet of paper, with their individual test score showing has been the norm in the past.  It’s forbidden to do this now.    But teachers will announce that this certain child has the best score and accuse the “bad” ones and expect them to do better next time.  If a child tells a parent they were able to score 3rd top in the class, it might be normal for the parent to say “You can’t get third anymore – you must get first place next time.”   And, there are probably 40-50 kids in their classroom.
Some have said after these rash of suicides – that the solution is for parents and teachers not to push the kids so much.  It’s not that simple – the whole education system needs reform.   The parents and teachers are responding to how the system works.

Many of the kids are working longer hours than adults do, because they attend school for the full day, from 6:30A wake up time until 5 pm for school, and then several hours of homework at night, plus the extra study courses that parents pay for.  Early elementary the homework is probably just 1-2 hours of regular homework per night.  In the upper elementary, such as 4-6th grade, it would be about 3-4 hours per night.  I think elementary students should have happy days in their life --- not just school and homework and extra study work to do well on the test. 

It is so tragic to think about these young people that have taken their lives.   The pressure in the education system is way too much.  When I read the story, it is hard to think about – this young life is gone!  I care for my kids’ emotions.    We must guide our kids and put their emotions ahead of test scores.  I hope reform comes to the educational system in China.  There needs to be a balance for the kids to have a happy life. I believe “All roads lead to Rome”. Life should   NOT be all about one definition of “success”.  

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