Below is a translation of this article from Southern Weekend, a fairly well-known online news site featuring critical essays and opinion pieces on various issues related to China. In this article, Yu Jian discusses how the contemporary Chinese education system is failing to produce individuals with “empathetic hearts”, and that the current system is too focused on producing test results instead of quality human beings.
Teaching for the final test seems to have become education’s primary duty.
From what I understand, all grade three Chinese senior high school students have already finished their normal studies for the year and entered into vigorous preparation to battle the Gaokao exam. Now, all schools only have one class: how to handle the Gaokao. Parents closely cooperate, and the study of unrelated subjects such as poetry, music, dance, art, philosophy, aesthetics and ethics have resolutely come to an end, as if the sky had collapsed in on them. In other words, the skill of test taking has become education’s highest knowledge, the only knowledge [worth having].
And I’m quite sure that China is the only country confronting this type of situation. From the time children enter school, they spend their entire academic careers preparing for the Gaokao. The objective of all subjects is just to serve one purpose: to prepare students for this final test. When students attend class their teachers will usually inform them of what material will be tested, and what material will not. “This won’t be tested, turn the page, don’t study this,” [teachers say]. When studying history, for example, students will only cover the main points concerning the governance of the economic system. The humanities of history are ignored completely.
One rainy morning as I was seeing my child off to school, we approached the school entrance just as the test bell went off. As soon as the bell sounded, children all around me frantically began running inside fearing to be the last [to enter the classroom]. Amidst all of the running, a female student slipped and fell down. Not one student stopped to help her up; they were all too busy running to class. The student picked herself up [and ran inside]. The students around her seemed to feel [this disregard for others] to be completely natural—the test is more important than anything else.
And I sighed. If this is the result of education, that students turn a blind eye to another student who has fallen down, that empathy has vanished, then this education system truly is too terrifying.[….] Education which emphasizes only testing, education without heart, is inhumane education.
The objective of this contemporary education system is to mold “new people”. When I say “new people”, I mean a new generation of individuals different from the historically backwards ones. But during this process of “molding” it is impossible for us to throw off tradition. No matter how we mold [new people], we still must depend on the day in and day out tradition of educating unobtrusively and imperceptibly, of teaching students according to their individual abilities.
When the great Confucius said that we should “teach students according to their individual abilities”, he certainly did not mean that we should teach only from some textbook for some test, he meant that we should identify and cultivate each student’s individual and unique genius[….]
In the past, teachers praised and criticized students on the good and bad deeds they performed—this determined whether or not a student was a good or bad child. Now, teachers praise or criticize students solely on their grades. Students who score high on their exams represent “Socialism’s ‘new person’”. Whether or not the student has morals, faith in socialism, or is an empathetic person is not important. Scores determine everything. An inhumane student with good grades is still considered to be a “new person”.
Students are also becoming more pragmatic: since all that matters is the final score, studying is just a means of developing test-taking skills; learning is insignificant. The acquisition of knowledge is only valuable in so far as it can help them test. Knowledge is boring—only the answers matter. A or B. Why one is B and not A is not important—it’s just the answer.
And this [approach to education] leads to undermining morality and ethics. Students do not learn to take initiative in their studies, everything is decided by the test answers. Why bother studying when all [the students are doing] is learning to memorize the answers? [….] Rote memorization has forcefully exterminated empathy. Genius, talent, creativity, wisdom, independent thinking—these skills all receive a final mark of “0”.
Students outwardly go through the motions of receiving this type of education, but inwardly disdain it. The knowledge required for tests is comprised of one set of facts, and the knowledge needed for reality another. Moreover, most of the material covered in today’s textbooks has no practical value in the outside world, and is irrelevant to everyday life. And for this reason this type of education can no longer be taken seriously [….]
This education system creates latent enemies of education. Once a student’s score passes a certain mark, [students feel no need to continue to learn,] and feel no remorse for not continuing their education.
There is also a very important difference between modern education and traditional private schooling. Private education is represented by the teacher’s personal image, while in modern education, the teacher’s personal style and morals, and student’s behavior, is concealed—the teachers and students are merely represented by a test paper. Teachers who produce students with high scores are good teachers. The teacher’s personality and morals are not important. Teachers have no need to adhere to moral principles or responsibilities. Their only responsibility is to help students achieve high scores.
And immoral teachers carelessly go about teaching during normal school hours. After class, they collect [extra] fees from students’ parents and teach these students directly from confidential test books. Today’s students do not respect their teachers, as teachers are considered to be only a boring screw in the country’s test machine.
Teachers do not care how their students develop as human beings, they only care about their test scores, and this signifies that teachers are not empathetic. If saving a person leads to scoring low on an exam, you are a bad student[….] Actually, neither the teacher nor the student is wrong as the education system itself has made this type of logic natural. Don’t behave this way, don’t study this way, if the teacher doesn’t get his or her bonus, there won’t be a school.
Modern education is training education dissidents. I’m not at all using hyperbole when I say that our current education system is heartless and without morals, that students under this system will never look upon teachers fondly as if they were their mothers and fathers, students will never feel deep gratitude [for them].
After the tests, after students have entered society, they will discover that society does not revolve around scores. If one day they cannot find the answer and do not have the ability to judge right from wrong, then they will have no spirit, no personal opinion or voice, no talent. And if there are hordes of people like this, then our future is in grave trouble. My meaning is, when confronting how different countries’ education systems are supposed to lift up their societies, it is clear that the goal of education is to make a country stronger. But what we see now instead is not how our education system will make our country stronger, but instead a foreshadowing of how this system is slowly degenerating and burying our country.