The hidden lives of Chinese students

This is part 2 of a continuing series, part 1

Primary school in China’s countryside pales in comparison to the education offered in the big cities of the East coast. From the moment my students started school they were behind, and never really had what could be called a fair chance.

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Village primary schools are often single level cement structures, with little to offer in supplies or personnel. This is not to say that teachers in the countryside lack enthusiasm. They have to be dedicated to accept the miserable wages (about $100 a month) and long hours that come with being a village teacher. However many of them lack formal education themselves, few have finished college, some have finished high school, and some were even middle school dropouts. Kyle had a student tell him during the second week of classes, that they needed to drop out because his village school needed him. The student couldn’t even answer the question, “What is your name?” but would soon be teaching English.

The government has issued several policies to try to address the issue of unqualified teachers by requiring all teachers to complete college. The fact is that rural villages cannot afford trained teachers. It has forced many places to shutter their local primary school and send their children to boarding school in the cities. Other schools have stubbornly ignored the rule and continue offering substandard education. It’s one of the many problems that have no easy solution.

Another one of my former students came from a village much like the one I described yesterday. To get to the college she had to walk from her village through the sugar cane fields until she came to the small dirt road. From there she could take a motorcycle 20 minutes to the highway, where she would wait for the little bus to pass by to take her to a town. From that town she was finally able to take a long-distance bus to the city the college was in.

She told me that in her village she was the first person to complete high school, and soon she would be the first person from her village to complete college. Her dream was to return to her little village to be a teacher in their primary school. It was two years before graduation when she told me this, but the village elders had already started calling her 老师(laoshi), teacher.

For middle school and high school, virtually all of the students are boarded. Even in the cities, students will often live on campus, only returning on the weekends to see their parents. The amount of pressure on them is more than I think most American students would be able to handle. At every step there are tests that further sort the students with “potential” from those destined to work in the factories. There are whole high schools for students who have been labeled unfit for college, but smart enough to merit a little more education.

In Yizhou I had a student name Celia who had a twin sister. Through middle school and high school they were more or less equal in all of their tests, even on the college entrance exam. Sadly the family had only enough money for one of them to go to college. The parents decided to leave the decision up to fate, and literally flipped a coin. Celia got to go to college, while her twin sister was sent to Guangdong to work in a factory to pay for Celia’s education.

Part 3

About T

I have been working in China for nearly five years now. I have traveled to more than 30 cities and towns, and have lived in 3 provinces. I am interested in issues concerning development in China and the rest of the world. I hope to provide a balanced look at some of the issues facing China as it continues its rise to power.
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8 Responses to The hidden lives of Chinese students

  1. Megan says:

    Oh, Celia! I remember her. That was a sad story.
    However, I suppose a large number of students that I had in Yizhou had similar tales of siblings who were working to support them. One student was ready to drop out because he was ashamed of letting his sister (and parents) down since she was working so hard for him to be there. He was too embarrassed to talk about it and would only write letters to me about his situation and how he felt about it. It was heartbreaking.

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  8. Great post as ever! Thanks for letting the world know what China’s education system is lacking.

    One thing about the boarding middle/high schools though. I think this might be something regional. “Virtually all of the students are boarded” is not true at least in my part of China. Back in Heilongjiang when I was a high schooler it’s quite uncommon. My high school was located at not quite the center, but convenient enough location of my little hometown, and it’s one of so-called “provincial top high schools”. The attraction should be great enough to draw most of the kids in and around the town over. But boarded students were the minority of us, sounding a little bit alien. Most of student I knew go home after school no matter how (relatively) unconvenient it is, or how late it is (usually after 9pm after night “self-study” sessions).

    I guess it largely depends on what kind of town the one in question is. If it’s tiny but more or less properly developed, student won’t need to or want to pick the boarding life because their village won’t be that far away anyway. But if it’s one with a fleet of ill-developed “satellite towns” that heavily relying on it for education & cultural resources, shit will happen…

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