NOTE: This is the UNEDITED version of the article submitted to the Shenzhen Daily, and published on May 30, 2017.
Having taught in Shenzhen middle schools for four years, I think it’s time I share some of my thoughts.
Many students come into the middle school system bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to learn and prepared to take on whatever challenges that come across their path. These are the students that absorb information like a sponge, desperate to learn and try anything new. These students are the ones that talk to the foreign teachers in the hall ways asking about things they had heard in the news, wanting help with their homework, or just generally wanting to be involved in lives.
Then there are students that are just trying to get on with their lives as best they can. They are not going to be the top students, but they are going to try the best. These students are often quiet in the classroom, will only speak when spoken to, but can often surprise when it comes to exams or assessments when you realise how much they have taken in. These students often remind me of myself – I was never a top student but I did reasonably well in my classes in middle and high school.
It’s the last set of students that I worry most about. These are the students that make no effort in class. I had an incident in school recently where half of the students claimed that they could not do an activity that they were able to do 12 months earlier, because they didn’t have enough English, or similar excuses. When I discussed this with their Chinese English teacher, I was informed that some students arrived at school with 5 or less words in English.
This thought horrified me. I understand that some students are not built for language, and that’s fine. However, I’m not much of a second language and even I’ve been able to learn a couple of hundred words in Mandarin in 4 years of haphazard study. These students have been studying English for at least 4 years before they get to middle school – surely they should know more than 5 words?
It is my personal belief that the Chinese education system needs to make one change, which will horrify parents, children and educators alike. If a child does not make sufficient progress over the course of an academic year, they are not to continue to the next grade – they must repeat the same grade until they have made sufficient progress.
Now, such an idea will horrify and shame many, but if students are unable to take some responsibility for their education, then what right do they have to effectively steal the place from a student that does deserve that place?
It should be noted that the author does not have a China-appropriate method for determining the sufficient level of progress, but in many countries, a pass mark of 50% or 60% has been deemed acceptable. If a student cannot pass a certain number of subjects, they would have to repeat the whole grade.
Admittedly, this does place pressure on parents and teachers to ensure that their child or children reach these standards, but if China wishes to have a more educated workforce in the future, then I believe that this is a good thing.
I am sure that future opinion pieces will lambast me for this idea, and I look forward to hearing their responses.