Potemkin Villages

Today was the final day of my first full week as far as class load is concerned. The beginning of the week was pretty stressful and I didn’t have time to catch my breath till about five minutes ago. My initial impressions of the students at our school was that the students are fairly bright and motivated. I don’t believe that the little ones have any idea why they are there, but the parents do, which means there is always a mother, or a father, or a grandparent, or all of the above hovering around the classrooms trying to listen in on what’s going on. They are all very nice and respectful, students and family, but the overriding emotion I gleaned from them was total investment in the child. Taken to the extreme, your child’s performance as a reflection on the entire family can turn into perennial disquiet for all involved. At the younger levels the students enjoy all of the doting and just want have fun, but as the kids get older and know what is at stake, the pressure becomes evident and the children and parents have fewer smiles. The kids at this point are studying hard for their parents honor and face, not there own. A lot of strain for a 14 year old. Incidentally, several of the parents at the school have two children attending, so apparently upper middle-class and above can afford the fines, or find ways to be exempted from the one-child policy in China. I haven’t asked, but may in the future.

This morning from around 8:00 AM till noon, Dwayne, who is the head teacher and branch manager, gathered myself and four TA’s on a planned trip to give a quick English competition to students at three state schools. The kids were from six to eight I would guess and the test was very basic: five pictured flash cards were laid out with elementary vocabulary, and the students entered one by one and had to name the picture on the card in English. An example would be an apple, where I would simply point to the apple and the student would answer “apple”. Very basic; apple, banana, dog, red and yellow were all that were shown. Bear in mind that these kids have been studying English at state schools for at least three years now, and having heard of the vaunted Chinese education system I figured they would all ace the contest. Well, after about 120 minutes and as many students, there were maybe 5, that’s right, 5, that got all of these very basic vocabulary correct. Almost the entire lot was either clueless, or maybe one, two correct answers max. I didn’t expect bilingualism, but what I saw was stunning. The schools were dilapidated and I got the feeling that these government schools were there to churn out factory and construction workers, not scientists and thinkers. The difference in these students and the students I have at Shane English is night and day. From what I could learn from the other employees at my school who have worked throughout China, it’s much worse in the rural areas. It appears that a lot of what we see and hear in the West about Chinese education standards is simply Potemkin Villages all the way down.

Tomorrow I am off so I’ll try to take some pics but I’ll certainly post again on some unrelated thoughts.



2 thoughts on “Potemkin Villages

  1. Aunt Colleen

    Pink Lemon sent me over and I really enjoyed your posts. I have a niece who was adopted from China and it’s nice to see the country and learn more about the world she came from.

    1. John Post author

      Thanks for following. Posts will become more frequent once I settle in. It is definitely different here.


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