Insights into world education: My account of Chinese schools and how they differ to British schools

Having worked in a local Shanghai school for the last 6 months I have been able to experience the differences and similarities with that of a similar school back in Britain. My main role at Tongzhou Model School, Shanghai was to teach an extra curriculum English programme to grade 3 students (ages 8-9 years). I also assisted with local teachers in p.e lessons for grades 1-3 and participated in everyday school activities with faculty and students. Finally throughout the summer month of July I taught an English and activity summer camp to students from grades 1-7 (ages 6-14 years). This experience I feel has given me a rounded and thorough prospective on school life here in China.

As expected there are a lot of similarities between school life in both countries, the day starts with a gathering of all the students in front of the principle much like back home. Although instead of an assembly inside a hall Chinese pupils will line up outside to watch the raising of a flag and participate in morning stretches. Then when breaking down the school schedule they both contain lessons of around the same length, start around the same time of 9am and finish at 3.30pm with a lunch break in the middle as expected. AT Tongzhou Model school similar to others in China the students are expected to wear uniform throughout, with different neck ties worn to symbolize whether they are at lower, middle or high school. These uniforms are adapted dependant on the season and weather outside. (Shorts and t-shirts for summer months)

One thing evident in Chinese schools and from what I spoke to the children personally about is the large amount of homework and extra-curriculum they are expected to do. With many expressing they are given up to 2hours of homework a night as well as the extra-curriculum sessions and travel home they aren’t able to start this until sometimes 5/6pm. I must state here that this is a selection of students studying at a private school (one which their parents pay) and also ones which have chosen to participate in the extra-curriculum lessons I teach. From speaking to Chinese colleagues and friends in Shanghai this homework time is very much the norm. The students seem to be pushed and worked hard from a young age, often showing good results. I am very surprised at the level of English some of my students have already obtained before they are even 10 years old.

In terms of behavior my student are very well behaved and keen to learn, discipline is a high priority in China and although they can often take a more hands on approach to the children (especially throughout P.E lessons) it has a good effect. With the children very respectful of their teachers it means class sizes of 35+ are achievable and productive. I have found my experience as a teacher to be a little less calm, although once ground rules are set they follow them respectfully. Very rarely do I find myself raising my voice in anger from a student behaving badly, sometimes enthusiasm needs to be increased or instructions repeated but on the off occasion I am unhappy with their performance a warning is enough to stop it from re-occurring. Again I must stress the children are here as an extra-curriculum and the classes are made specifically to improve their English in a fun manner (encouraging better behavior).

Outside of my lessons the students focus on core lesson of Chinese, Maths and English with all of these taught every day. Another prominent activity is P.E and school stretches, the students take part in stretches two times a day (done wherever their last lesson took place) and go outside for P.E every day. Although these lessons tend to be a little more relaxed and for older student somewhat optional they are none the less a regular feature of their day and important. The average Chinese student is a lot fitter/slimmer than that of a western child and although the food they eat is probably more the reasoning these regular P.E lessons can do no harm in what can be a punishing day for students.

As individuals Chinese students have been brought up to work hard and respect their elders/teachers which puts them in a very good place for succeeding in school and future life. I believe there could be a better balance between their work load and leisure time however, as currently they simply don’t know what to do when they are not working. This I believe would see an improvement in much valued life skills, not taught at school and make them into much more rounded individuals.

Written by Tom Armstrong from UK