The Dragon’s Tutelage: Chinese Students in Their Own Words

The Chinese education system, as witnessed by those who grew up through it

Courtesy of the author


A common thread throughout most of the essays regards China’s testing regime and the pressures that accompany it. While few students are willing to criticize the tests directly (some even going so far as to praise them for their “perfect” fairness and accuracy), many make mention of problems related to high-stakes testing: A lack of free time and psychological stress.

Scholastic subjects

Speaking of which, many students call for education to include a more varied curriculum. Schools can vary in the breadth of their educational content, but a combination of educational tracking and a traditional by-rote pedagogical approach mean that a lot of students have a rather narrow educational experience.

Teachers and cram schools

Some of the students have a lot to say about the quality of teachers, with calls for assessments to root out bad instructors. I have the impression that the students suspect that some of their teachers were either unqualified or apathetic about their jobs.

Broader educational issues

A few essays go beyond the students’ immediate experiences. For example, some of them make reference to inadequate resources in rural and isolated areas, a problem throughout the country.

General takeaway

Perhaps the most telling aspect about these essays is their very broad focus. While American complaints about education are often based on first-hand experience and tend to focus on close issues that may affect the speaker personally, the complaints in these essays take a more society-level approach. Even when my students have what is obviously a personal issue, they are likely to expand it outwards to the entire country. This may speak to a difference in values and self-assessment between the cultures, with the Chinese being more likely to think of themselves as members of a group rather than as individuals.



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