An education reporter went into Pingdu (Âπ≥Â∫¶), a county-level city under Qingdao City of Shandong Province, and delved into how time clocks so fast in a town that is dubbed a “national advanced county of basic education,” and the fact that education officials, teachers, parents and students are consumed by a self-reinforcing pressure to keep working without playing, for at least 20 years.
(Backgrounder: China’s junior high and high schools usually start the academic year right at the beginning of September, and runs through early/mid July the next year. Students, theoretically, have a winter vacation of little more than a month and an almost-two-month summer break.)
But as most students around the country are playing half way through the summer, Pingdu kids have already started school in early August, ending a two-week break that has been standard for two decades, or more. No wonder, when the reporter arrived at some of the star high schools, celebratory posters hang around the walls boasting the significantly greater number of college entrants. In the eye of most locals, as long as their kids get into two of the high schools, “there shouldn’t be a problem of getting into a college.”
The secret of success for these schools, equivalent of the Mission San Jose High in Fremont, CA, is an extremely heavy course load and a boot camp-like curriculum all year around.
Students usually get up around 5:30 in the morning, and start the day at school 40 minutes later. Except meals, they end the day with three night sessions of self-study, leaving school at about 9:30pm. (But many, if not most, of the kids are willing night owls that work late into the night in their dorms or homes.) And for most of the year, students have only one day, or at most one and a half days, off every month. With 70% of enrollees coming from a farming background, the high-flying performance over the years at these schools provide the most sought after solution for farmer parents, who want their kids to have a better future via a college education, despite the fact that many parents do feel sorry for the rigid and tedious lifestyle of their children.
Teachers are helplessly plowing onward as well. Divided into teaching groups and measured against other teams, teachers are fighting their own battles while prodding their students, and themselves, to work harder. Like students, they also work 6am-9pm days (not 9-6). And many young teachers complain, privately, about not having enough vacation to relax.
This is at a time when Beijing cries out for so-called “quality education (Á¥†Ë¥®ÊïôËÇ≤),” which sets out to give book-laden students more time for creativity and non-academic skills. Pingdu officials seem to be not concerned, but instead are still focused on scores. They are convinced that scores are still the most important yardstick even in quality education that stresses students’ extra-curricular activities and versatility. Scores, a Pingdu education official says, are proportional to students’ abilities and “quality.”
But the reporter learned that some students are frustrated that they don’t have any hobbies or interests. “I was swamped by studies in middle and high school. I wanted to develop some interests in winter and summer breaks but my plans ended up always being washed away by early schedules,” grouses a college student who graduated from Pingdu. [Full Text in Chinese, via Reporters’ Home at Xici.net]