English Takes a Backseat to Xi Jinping Thought

China’s nearly 300 million students will be studying “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” this coming school year, according to guidelines published by the Ministry of Education on Tuesday. The announcement follows dramatic new limits on the private tutoring industry, ostensibly aimed at wresting back control over education from private capital, but which some observers suspect might be “a pretense to monopolize education and centralize brainwashing.” At Reuters, David Stanway reported on the new guidelines:

China will incorporate “Xi Jinping Thought” into its national curriculum to help “establish Marxist belief” in the country’s youth, the education ministry said in new guidelines published on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Education said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era” would be taught from primary school level all the way to university.

The move is aimed at strengthening “resolve to listen to and follow the Party” and new teaching materials must “cultivate patriotic feelings”, the guidelines said. [Source]

Earlier this summer, the Central Propaganda Department, working in tandem with a host of other departments, rolled out 200 new public WeChat accounts to promote Xi Jinping Thought among students and “strengthen and improve ideological and political work” in accordance with Xi’s wishes. In July, the Ministry of Education published a Xi Jinping Thought Reader for school use. Global Times broke down how the study of Xi Jinping Thought will differ across age groups:

Primary schools will focus on cultivating love for the country, the Communist Party of China, and socialism. In middle schools, the focus will be on a combination of perceptual experience and knowledge study, to help students form basic political judgments and opinions. In college, there will be more emphasis on the establishment of theoretical thinking.

Studying Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is the primary political task of the Communist Party of China and of the country, read a statement published on the MOE website on Tuesday. To cultivate the builders and successors of socialism with an all-round moral, intellectual, physical and aesthetic grounding and a hard-working spirit, we must arm students’ minds with Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, said the statement. [Source]

At Voice of America, Bo Gu solicited expert commentary on the incorporation of Xi Jinping Thought into school curriculums:

Perry Link, an expert on contemporary Chinese politics and a distinguished professor at the University of California, Riverside, agreed, telling VOA Mandarin, “It’s time that we call a spade a spade. This is brainwashing.”

[…] This is not the first time a Chinese leader’s thoughts and vision for the country have been incorporated into textbooks. Works by former leaders Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin and Mao have been included in elementary and secondary school syllabi.

[…] “Ever since Xi Jinping took power, especially in the last few years, not just in school history textbooks but also the party’s own history archives, have had more exposure of Xi,” said Yang Jianli, founder of the U.S.-based rights group Citizen Power Initiatives for China. [Source]

New demands that schools teach Xi’s interpretation of Marxism have coincided with efforts to pare English from school curriculums. Chinese leaders and prominent professors have publicly scoffed at the importance of studying English, calling for it to be removed from China’s college entrance exams. At Nikkei Asia, Naoki Matsuda reported on the move away from English courses and “unapproved” foreign books in Chinese schools:

A new textbook on “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” will be required reading in Shanghai elementary, middle and high schools starting in September, for classes on morality and the rule of law in lower grades and ideology and politics for high schoolers. Students will likely be expected to memorize notable quotes from the president.

Meanwhile, the city announced last week that primary schools should administer final exams for only math and Chinese for students from third through fifth grade, removing English from the list. City authorities also banned midterm tests for these grades, limiting exams to the end of the year only.

[…] Beijing on Monday announced a ban on the use of unapproved foreign textbooks in primary and junior high schools. With the ideological conflict between the U.S. and China likely to drag on for years to come, authorities apparently aim to instill positivity toward the Communist Party among young people, as well as nip any potential for Hong Kong-style activism in the bud. [Source]

The cutbacks and changes have thrown many teachers in the private tutoring industry out of work. VIPKid, an online tutoring service that claimed to employ over 100,000 American and Chinese tutors, shut down with little notice in order to comply with changing regulations. “It just felt like the rug was yanked from under us,” one teacher told EdSurge, an ed-tech focused news organization. On the ground in China, China Labour Bulletin’s strike map has charted a significant increase in labor protests among tutors employed by small education firms that shut without paying employee salaries. Bloomberg News interviewed Aidan Chau, a researcher at CLB, on the origin and future of teacher protests:

There have been eight protests involving workers in the nation’s education sector so far in August, the most in monthly data compiled by labor watchdog China Labour Bulletin going back to January 2019. There were another two incidents in late July in the days after the overhaul was announced.

One of the protests involved a company in Shanghai that helps students prepare to study overseas whose management fled without paying its employees. Similar episodes were seen in cities such as Beijing, Changsha and Nanjing. The crackdown exacerbated the financial problems many schools were facing because of the pandemic, said Aidan Chau, a researcher at the Hong Kong-based organization.

[…] He called on the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions to help the educators get their pay and resolve other issues. “If the official union does nothing, then when the workers decide to take action themselves,” the Communist Party or the union won’t have an excuse, he said. [Source]

Families have also been thrown for a loop by the new restrictions, although many weary parents have welcomed the change: “It hurts my head just thinking about managing both of their schedules,” said one mother of two. Others have expressed fear that their children might fall behind: “As the curriculum gets more difficult in high school, […] it’s important for her to get an extra boost from these tutoring sessions.” Efforts to reform extracurricular education may founder on loopholes discovered by enterprising parents and local governments. Chief among these is the “Hengshui model,” pioneered by real estate developers in Hengshui who sought to woo homebuyers by founding exclusive private schools attached to new residential compounds. Graduates’ high scores on the National College Entrance Exams, which proponents attribute to the schools’ notoriously brutal academic standards, have enticed buyers, raised property prices and spurred a building race. Despite Xi’s call to reign in capital in both the real estate and education markets, the Hengshui model remains wildly popular. From Sun Yu at The Financial Times:

“Beijing may not be happy about the Hengshui model, as it creates a property bubble and exacerbates education inequality,” said Dan Wang, an economist at Hang Seng Bank in Shanghai. “But local governments are keen to adopt the practice to boost the economy.”

[…] Thanks to highly qualified teachers earning above-average salaries, and rigorous curriculums, Hengshui’s private schools now churn out students who excel at exams. In 2019, the city’s No 1 High School, owned by a local developer, accounted for 61 of Hebei’s top 100 college entrance exam results in Hebei.

[…] Hengshui is now exporting its education-led growth model across the country. Over recent years Hengshui developers have opened schools in more than a dozen cities, most of them also under-developed. [Source]

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