A Chinese Education

Walking down the street during any given hour of any given day you will notice people. People are everywhere. Considering I try to spend my time free time out shopping or just walking around, I am out and about during normal study hours. Many of these people I see are college age. Having heard of the selective Chinese education system, it is shocking to see young people out and about all the time. Shouldn’t they be studying?

This past Sunday marked the second tutoring session with Billy, and this time he read to me. His father wanted him to read a story several times aloud and then summarize the story in his own words. I listened to him read and corrected the words he mispronounced.

While walking me to the metro station after the lesson, Billy told me about his friend who lives below him on the seventeenth floor. As he told me how he enjoys playing with his friend, his dad quickly stated, “But Billy doesn’t have time to play a lot. Chinese kids are always studying.” Billy’s dad asked me, “During your younger years of school, did you take any tests?” I assumed he was referring to a science test or a reading quiz. Apparently, Billy has a test each month. From what I discerned, this monthly test is equivalent to the End of Grade test I took at the end of each school year. Unlike Chinese students, the SAT can be the only future-deciding test in an American child’s life.

Even after the one hour session with me, Billy continues his English language studies with another program. Remember, this happens on a Sunday, the weekend. After the session I could not help but think about the learning system in China compared to learning in the United States, specifically my experience of being taught Chinese at home and being taught Chinese in China.

During one Chinese class, my Chinese professor, Chen Laoshi, asked us to close our textbooks and focus on the white board. She had copied a few key sentences from the lesson’s story and asked us to insert the missing words. Not realizing that memorizing the story was required, I was caught off guard. I did not understand how memorizing a story would improve my Chinese language skills. Looking back at this and comparing my classroom experience with the tutoring session, I am realizing that Chinese education is all about memorizing. The Chinese language is based on memorizing characters, right? That might explain the rigorous learning system. Without knowing the characters, it is impossible to know the language. While memorizing dates and people are required for history majors, most American students are accustomed to using critical thinking skills.

The post-Mao years have allowed Chinese people the opportunity to succeed but with a price. While America has the supposed “American Dream” where anyone can make it, China isn’t so lucky. Chinese students have to study more to prove their worth. American students might study less than Chinese students, but to me, there is a happy medium between studying and knowing when to decompress, especially during one’s childhood.

On the flip side, China, with a rigorous education system, has an increasing younger generation influenced by the world around them capable of changing the country for the better, economically and environmentally.