Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reflection #7: Effective Parts of Chinese Education

The first day I taught, I arrived at the gate to find thousands of Chinese high-school-aged children marching around the track in front of the school. On a command from a woman at the main doors of the school, the students stopped marching and broke into a measured run, stepping in unison. My eyes widened and I nearly dropped my computer bag. Every few rows, another student ran alongside, shouting orders (judging by the tempo, it was "Left! left! Left, right, left!"). This, I thought, is why people are afraid of the Chinese military. Or if they aren't, this is why they should be. These kids were clearly involved in some kind of compulsory pre-draft test of military obedience.

Every day at my arrival, I observed this spectacle, and sometimes again when I left. About a week later, as I was getting ready to leave the English office for my first class, Ike and Lee came into the room, breathing heavily. "We ran with the kids!" they announced.

"You can do that?"

"Yeah!"

"Huh." I wouldn't have thought they would be allowed to take part in something that seemed like training. It became slowly apparent, though, that the students, while obeying orders, weren't being groomed for lives of military service, but rather taking part in a short burst of physical activity for its own sake. And I was relieved to discover this.

The kids have a school day better than twelve hours long, which sounds downright torturous. However, unlike their American counterparts, they have a lunch break that's nearly an hour and a half long (enough time for them to go home and have a meal). They also have the fifteen-minute runs twice a day, and a daily physical education class. So while they still spend more time in class than American kids, it's not as bad as it seems at first blush.

They're given ample time to expend their extra energy (whether they like it or not!) and I think this eliminates a lot of the restlessness and boredom present in American classrooms. When I was in grade school, we had PE two days a week, and until 5th grade, two recesses (after that, just one recess). In high school, we had PE every day for just one year (it was a two-semester required course), but after that, nothing. I still have students occasionally falling asleep in class, but one out of a class of 75 isn't bad at all (especially considering that they do have a long day, plus homework), and there seems to be less spacing out in general. I spent a lot of time in my high school classes looking out the window, especially in spring, wishing I was out in the nice weather. The kids at Fuxin Experimental School don't have to wait too long for that wish to come true, though I must admit my daydreaming rarely involved regimented jogs.

There is a big focus in China on physical fitness (accompanied, hilariously, by a nationwide nicotine habit), and that is evident in the students' twice-daily march/jogs. They don't terrify me as they used to, especially considering students often wave and shout "Hallo, Teacher!" at me while they run along. I think it's a great practice, and a way to break up the school day so students aren't dropping like flies from post-lunch lethargy.

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