Teaching: ‘Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School’ on BBC2/Part One

Tuesday evening and for once I watched TV (I never usually watch TV and am not particularly fond of them to be honest)…‘Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School’, a new three-part series on BBC2. In this documentary…and what they have coined as an “experiment”…five teachers from China take over the education of 50 teenagers (13 and 14 year olds) at Bohunt School in Liphook, Hampshire, to see whether the Chinese education system can teach UK schools “a lesson”. They question, will the harsh regime of long days and strict discipline produce superior students? Or will the clash of two cultures create chaos in the classroom?

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I thought this programme was a must watch as it directly feeds into my pre-reading (or watching) for the Masters in Education in Academic Practice that I am completing later this year, with a specific focus on internationalising the curriculum and cultural assimilation for international students…also, as my research specialism and world is China and its contemporary arts and culture.

Here are some notes and thoughts from Part One of the programme. They introduced the programme saying that students today face an increasingly competitive world…there’s something happening in China…what is this and can it be transferred back into the classrooms of the UK? China’s education is based on authority, discipline and regime. Exercise routines were introduced prior to the start of school. In China, these routines reminds us that we belong to each other and we belong to a team…a collective sense to do something together and together properly. The Bohunt students expectations were that it was to be like the army, and that they would be louder than the students in China. Class size grew from 50 children instead of 30 in one room…where discipline is crucial – without discipline you don’t learn well…in China the teachers’ authority is absolute…if you are a teacher you have respect…if you make effort you will achieve. Chinese students do not waste other students time. School days extended to 12 hour-long days with two lunch breaks.

Bohunt stated they are confident in the British system…classes are smaller and set to ability level…progress in students they see as better than China….also an emphasis on self-discovery. Chinese teaching is all done in books, paper and note taking…in a structured and traditional manner. For the Chinese method to work, the children must pay attention. Most Chinese students would not face being singled out by a teacher. The Bohunt students had to knuckle down to two-hour self-study to revisit what they’ve done during the day. Teenagers in China spend most of their time on effort and study…extra classes…they seldom have time for hobbies. During the communist Mao era, physical exercise became central to the national examination system. Students called it “insanely competitive” compared to English P.E.

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The influence of the more competitive Chinese approach on the British system…in the UK it is more about competing with themselves. The Chinese teachers noted the students’ behaviour as a little noisy and naughty. The Head of the Bohunt stated the UK doesn’t have the absolute driver like China to be successful. Teaching at Chinese pace means the British students can’t keep up…in my opinion I question whether this is why the UK isn’t the forerunners of industry or research (only in some disciplines).

“It’s not the teachers’ lesson, it’s the students’ lesson…teaching content versus teaching understanding.”

One Chinese teacher said it is “survive or you die”…I questioned whether this means without an education you die? What about the value of the education of life? Of experience? The Chinese teachers thought maybe it’s ok/accepted in the UK to challenge authority to challenge the teachers. Also the importance of total cultural immersion in China from fan dances based on martial arts, to the daily ritual of an energizing face massage, cooking, and craft work…all designed to engage children in the Chinese way of thinking such as patience, perseverance and concentration.

“Education doesn’t always work…teacher must have the ability and techniques to get the students back.”

One of the students stated that China more focussed on being the best and getting to the top of the class whereas in the UK it is more about what you are good at. In classic Communist style, the (Chinese) classes are partly run by student monitors to maintain standards and keep class management…”for a future society”. The teacher is to be a role model to the class…you set an example in the classroom…to have an impact on your classmate and those around you, which in my opinion applies to teaching in Britain and China…wherever you are in the world.

Fantastic comments and discussion unfolded on Twitter via the programme’s hashtag of #chineseschool…some of which I took screenshots of and shown below…multiple viewpoints on parenting and teaching, cross-cultural perspectives on China versus UK differences, political insights (and digs) and some very honest thoughts…it added so much value to the show. It became very clear that this “cultural collision” (coined by @shinpad1 on Twitter) has positives and negatives in terms of teaching styles, ultimately relying on cultural assimilation and specificity. James Wren on Twitter stated ‘cross-curricular, local links, intrinsic motivation’ as part of teaching and I agree. Here’s to Part Two next week…may the conversations continue. Until then, here’s a little further reading – ‘China’s schools are testing factories. Why is Britain so keen to copy them?’ by  and ‘Would Chinese-style education work on British kids?’ by BBC News.

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  1. I am a Chinese , I feel my worst time of life just when I was in middle school ! Terrible life . From 8am to 12:00pm , all the time is studying . When I was in high school , I had 5 tests everyday ! I feel I became a studying machine ! Not happy ! All children all like this , so you must study hard. I think this education style is silly , students all like wood even get good points if test , without creation ! I still think the darkened life is when I was in middle school !

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