Chinese Education Evaluators Are Passing Failing Schools

I know I promised more on creativity, but education is a big topic, and I think if you read through the comments on yesterday’s post, you will find a wealth of information on that topic.

In China every college/university goes through a thorough inspection every 2 years (inspections are common in all institutions in China). This process is meant to evaluate the level of the school and to ensure that the school is up to the government standards. It involves interviewing teachers, monitoring lessons, and evaluating student work.

These inspections are a collosal waste of time, and do nothing to improve the educational system.

Today I’ll be showing you how even the worst universities manage to pass these evaluations (I was told by one of the leaders in the Jiangsu dept. of education that out of all the inspections in 2009, not a single school failed).

Interviewing Teachers

These interviews are supposed to be used as a method for evaluating the level of education the teachers have, as well as their ability to speak Mandarin (checking for a non-standard accent). They also review teachers’ lesson plans.

I was surprised to learn that to pass this section many schools will “demote” their less qualified teachers, making them on-paper secretaries or library assistants. To bolster their narrowed ranks the school then “hires” several professors from more prestigious universities as “visiting professors”. I apologize for the excessive use of quotes, but these professors never even visit the campus, let alone teach a single class. For signing their name to the syllabus these prestigious professors earn fat kick-backs, while the less qualified teachers continue to secretly teach their classes.

In my last weeks of school in Chengdu last year they had me write my syllabus for the past year before I left. I protested that I didn’t really remember every lesson I had given. It doesn’t matter, my Chinese co-teacher said, just make it look professional and give a lot of details. It didn’t matter what I had actually taught the students, as long as I handed in a stack of paper work.

Monitoring Lessons

The inspectors are supposed to observe lessons taught by a few random teachers to check the quality of the lessons.

The inspection is never a surprise, and so the teachers spend the weeks before practicing a single lesson to ensure that it goes flawlessly in front of the inspectors. As Niubi mentioned in the comment section yesterday, the teachers will often refer to these as performances.

Throughout the performance the teacher leads a class where every activity is simply begun without instruction, and each student knows which question they will be asked and how to answer it correctly. Students who cause problems regularly during classes are often “sick” during these inspections to avoid any disturbances.

Evaluating Student Work

Inspectors are supposed to read through students’ writing as well as examine their grades.

I’m sure when they were drafting this policy, it seemed like a wonderful idea, but this is the most laughable section of the evaluation. Teachers are actually required by the leaders to practically re-write every paper their students handed in, even their thesis. Any error in these papers will be sharply criticized by the inspectors so the teachers slave away fixing their students’ work for months before the evaluation (keep in mind that each teacher has had over 200 students since the last inspection).

On top of that, the school will actually re-grade the students to provide a “better” picture of the school’s performance. This not only means raising the grade of underperforming students, but lowering the grades of over-achievers as well.

So instead of focusing on lesson planning, or improving their courses in some other way, Chinese teachers spend one out of every two years preparing for inspections that nobody ever fails. It seems like these evaluations that were meant to improve China’s schools are a large part of what is holding many of them back.

I have experienced all of these practices at every school I have worked at in China first hand.

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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23 Responses to Chinese Education Evaluators Are Passing Failing Schools

  1. Not much different from our OFSTED inspections then.

    • Chopstik says:

      What are OFSTED inspections?

      • Kevin says:

        OFSTED = the (UK) Office for Standards in Education. Their inspectors visit schools once every 4 years for a week (or 2 weeks?) to do basically the same sort of thing, but I think they visit classes randomly over that period rather than arranging everything in advance, and they interview students as well as teachers. I guess the teachers do probably do more preparation than usual over that period, but we didn’t rehearse the lessons in advance or anything like that.

  2. Chopstik says:

    When we were hired to teach English at the elementary school, we were told shortly after we started that we actually were not supposed to teach as it was disrupting the students Mandarin studies. Therefore, no vocabulary, no alphabet, only learning stock phrases. It was a rather disheartening introduction to teaching and I know that the majority of the foreign teachers ignored that directive to varying degrees (myself included). While we understood it was important that the children learn Mandarin (we were teaching in an area that had its own local dialects), it seemed pointless to waste time not helping the children learn. At their age, it seemed the best thing to do since it is always better to learn languages at a young age.

    • Tom says:

      The sad thing of course is that at a young age students are able to pick up many languages, and know the differences between them. I am constantly amazed that Chinese students study English for 9 years and most of them only retain 3-4 phrases. It seems like they are wasting thousands of hours of class time with little to show for it.

    • NiubiCowboy says:

      I experienced the same thing Chopstik! Whenever I made attempts to teach basic phonics or, at the very least the alphabet, I’d always receive the response you yourself received. “It will disrupt learning Mandarin,” or my favorite, “They will get confused between the alphabet and pinyin.” I always argued that they’re going to be confused when they start learning the alphabet in primary school, so wouldn’t it be better to begin studying it sooner rather than later? On countless occasions I tried in vain to explain to parents and teachers the most basic concepts of Second Language Acquisition in what I thought was very, very simple English and Chinese. Like Tom said, during a child’s critical period of language development a child is able to absorb language like a sponge. At that age they’re acquiring language rather than learning it. The most important factor, however, is heaps and heaps of positive input. When I would meet with parents the question I was almost always asked was, “Why doesn’t my child speak English when he’s at home? At school we see him speak with you very well, but he never speaks at home!” I’d ask, of course, did they speak English with him at home at all? Their answer? “No, we don’t want him to be confused. Also, our English is very bad.” By bad, they meant they spoke usually flawless English but had a Chinese accent, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms.. (I don’t expect Indians or Filipinos to have American, British or Australian accents. I expect them to have Indian or Filipino accents, because they have just as much ownership of the language as I do. Here I think notions of “standard” versions of a language color their perceptions of English accents). Meanwhile, foreign kids at the school would already be fluent in English and their parents’ mother tongues, and well on their way to fluency in Chinese because their parents understood that the environment was more important than a class. I tried creating activities wherein the children would have to speak to one another in English in order for them to grow accustomed to speaking a second language with another second language speaker because over time I began to feel that the children would come to associate English with white foreigners, or worse, just me.

  3. Pelo says:

    How sad.

  4. NiubiCowboy says:

    Tom, what was the theoretical punishment for failing these evaluations? Loss of funding, accreditation, or something like that?

    • Tom says:

      I believe it was some of those things. To be honest nobody ever talked about failing them. It was always put in terms of “once we pass this…” which usually meant the school would get a better title.

  5. john book says:

    Not sure how many are interested in Japan education….. let me know if I write too much… just thought it was interesting to compare.

    In the high schools and colleges I taught in, it was impossible to fail any student. The first year I tried, the administration changed the two failing grades I gave to two students. Failing a student is really, really frowned on there. Boy, was I surprised.

    Needless to say, some of the students weren’t working too hard to get top grades…..

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  9. vwam says:

    i got told not to fail anyone in my uni classes. so i announced that students who had not attended would all get an A. and that everyone else would get the mark they deserved. actually i should have just given everyone an A+….

    a student in a hebei high school told me that she was forbidden to tell the visiting inspectors that they had classes on sundays. the rules were that schools could only be open six days a week, but of course everyone piled in there on a sunday for even more solid gold.

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