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Addicted to Mediocrity: The Educational System in China

ENGRISH TEACHERS

One of my students gave a short speech yesterday on the person who had most influenced her life. Like many others she named her mother as her personal hero. It was a great impromptu speech and I applauded her for her candor about one issue in particular: She lauded her mother for giving up a high paying managerial job to take care of her as she grew up. But she lamented that her father was “only a professor” and unable to support the family in the style to which they had become accustomed while mom was bringing in disposable income. That, and a generalized genuine lack of enthusiasm and respect for even the best teachers here caused me to ponder the problem.

First, it brought to mind the old joke: One day in heaven, God decided he would visit Earth. Walking down the road, he met a peasant who was crying. God asked the man, “Why are you crying, my son?” The man said that he was blind and had never seen a sunset. God touched the man who could then see and was happy. Later, god met another man crying and asked, “Why are you crying, my son?” The man was born unable to walk. God touched him, he could walk, and he was happy. Farther down the road, God met yet another man who was crying and asked, “Why are you crying, my son?” The man said, “God, I work for the Chinese school system.” And God sat down and cried with him.

While average salaries for a professor in the US and Japan hover around six figures, the average Chinese senior college educator can expect to nail down $800-1,200 US dollars a month. A new faculty lecturer can expect to pocket about $360-400 US dollars and will toil in conditions that inner-city teachers in America would riot against. The system is so horribly flawed that I don’t expect the students to think much differently than they do now. Government figures show over 4 million college students graduating (a 22 percent increase) while the labor market will cough up less than 2 million jobs (a 22 percent drop) this year. And salaries are falling with demand: More than 40% of new graduates will earn a monthly salary lower than $190 USD a month. A migrant worker can earn from $99-148 a month in larger cities.

Academic standards in mainland China are decidedly weak compared to the west or even Macau or Hong Kong: many teachers can begin an academic career with a bachelor’s degree and garner full professorships without advanced training. They are appointed and promoted because of longevity, party connections or friendships within the school’s hierarchy. Foreign experts, a dreadful misnomer in many cases, are often hired solely for their ability to speak English or the color of their skin. While the government has made schools aware that the “experts” are essential to teaching managers how to become more internationally competitive as prices level out worldwide, they do little to encourage recruitment and retention of qualified foreigners. Only 1/6 of University level teachers have even a few weeks of English as a Second Language (ESL) Training. And those who are qualified and want to stay here cannot. You must be at least an associate professor with five years of tax-paying residency to even apply for a green card. And even then, the US government, in the wake of 9-11, will hand out more green cards in four days to Chinese immigrants than the Chinese government will part with annually for ALL foreign nationals combined. Just ask Dr. Janice Engsberg an American who has been working in China for 15 years, teaching in the mass communication department of Xiamen University. She was recognized by the Chinese government with its pretigious annual “Friendship Award,” and still is dreaming of a day when she might get a green card.

And a new term, the “industrialization of education,” has bred manyt new universities that only profit hunt as opposed to teach any functional skills. Investors, smart businessmen with no business being in the education business, are reaping huge profits by short-changing Chinese youth. Most of the teaching staff at these new schools are so unhappy with their poor salaries, large class sizes, and fossilized administrative mechanisms in place that they save their energy for second jobs and just go through the motions of teaching. Students are rarely taught transferable skills, especially in English, and employers hiring graduates know it. The students know as well that they have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a good job upon graduation and they act accordingly. Pass by many classrooms and you will find students text messaging, sleeping, chatting or reading something other than a textbook. It is hard to blame them or the the public who has a long way to go in accepting teachers as a valuable part of societal development and social improvement.

An older article translated by EASTSOUTHWESTNORTH points up the attitudes held by those nostalgic for the days of Mao: “The rat is one of the ‘Four Pests’ in China. Today, there are ‘Four New Pests’ in China, and they are respectively: 1. Public security/procuratorate/court of law 2. National and local taxation 3. Doctors/teachers 4. Organized criminals Actually, while the organized criminals are bad, their damage is much less than that from the preceding three groups. In that bygone era, “public security/procuratorate/court of law” and “national and local taxation” were both imperfect, but they did not persecute people. In fact, public security was even a very respected occupation. Today, “public security/procuratorate/court of law” and “national and local taxation” are disaster areas for corruption. In that bygone era, “doctors and teachers” once assumed the role of victims. The synopsis of that era may be “If you have to work with a knife, you are better off being a butcher than a surgeon; if you have to manage a herd, you are better being a sheep shepherd than a school teacher.” But today, even city workers cannot afford to send their children to university, as education expenses have become a huge family burden. If you are sick, you won’t dare visit a hospital because it isn’t big news if a few days of stay cost you a few hundred thousand yuan.”

A recovered post from a few months before the crash…

Asia,China Cartoons,China Editorials,Confucius Slept Here,Intercultural Issues,past posts,Teaching in China,中国

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Addicted to Mediocrity: The Educational System in China”

  1. Taliaon Mar 30th 2007 at 12:59 am

    Wow. Your blog is really interesting. I am studying to be a teacher, I’m in my final year. It’s interesting to see the perspective they have over in China. Keep up the good work with your blog. I enjoy it.

  2. Barton Mar 30th 2007 at 6:25 am

    A very informative article.

    I’d just like to make a comment about foreign “experts” who “are often hired solely for their ability to speak English or the color of their skin”. I was one of those for the first year of my time in China. I worked hard, and – I think – taught to an acceptable level for someone who has never been trained as an English teacher. The fact is that there simply are not enough qualified English teachers willing to work for 6000 USD a year in a backward, polluted, Chinese city just for the “China experience”. The vast majority of Chinese will never leave China, so if the government wants to expose them to Western culture and the international language of English, then employing foreign experts is a cost effective way to do so.

  3. michaelon Mar 30th 2007 at 8:07 am

    I can vouch for the mediocrity of Foreign Experts – I was one! I find it hard to understand why China, awash with foreign currency reserves, does not invest this in training and education.

  4. Leon Gooon Mar 30th 2007 at 12:20 pm

    I’m just curious why you excellent foreign teachers (and others as well) are still staying in China?

    Sometimes, it feels warm to me that you nice guys haven’t leave China behind yet :)

  5. […] a piece on China education system, in particular the “industrialization of education”: Investors, smart businessmen with no business being in the education business, are reaping huge prof… Oiwan […]

  6. Sion Mar 30th 2007 at 1:08 pm

    i agree with michael – i was also an appalling teacher at university level. i tried my best but they give you nothing. no syllabus, maybe one (bad, outdated, risible) textbook and no aims of the course even. i can understand the lack of equipment through funding, but would it kill the departments to sit down and bash out what they want the students to learn together with their teachers, chinese and foreign? they don’t even advertise their positions much of the time. a lot of money, time and talent goes down the drain….

  7. Lonnieon Mar 31st 2007 at 2:09 am

    Michael, Si…

    Thanks. The sincerity in your responses make me believe that despite not being well trained or logisitically supported by your institutions you were respected and responsible teachers.

    Leon,

    This is my home now; hence, it is my responsibility to adapt and to do the best I can with what I have and with what is given me….Like the Professor in the article I hope to be able to legally make this my home one day…

    L

  8. […] “Onemanbandwidth: An American Professor in China” is an expat in China who has contributed an essay on the Chinese educational system and it is interesting to compare such to Korea, considering what one sees of the educational system in Korea. . . . Academic standards in mainland China are decidedly weak compared to the west or even Macau or Hong Kong: many teachers can begin an academic career with a bachelor’s degree and garner full professorships without advanced training. They are appointed and promoted because of longevity, party connections or friendships within the school’s hierarchy. Foreign experts, a dreadful misnomer in many cases, are often hired solely for their ability to speak English or the color of their skin. While the government has made schools aware that the “experts” are essential to teaching managers how to become more internationally competitive as prices level out worldwide, they do little to encourage recruitment and retention of qualified foreigners. […]

  9. pligg.comon Jun 30th 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Addicted to Mediocrity I: The Educational System in China…

    Professor Lonnie B. Hodge discusses his experiences as an educator and teacher living in Asia and China, particularly the “industrialization of education” taking place in China now and its effects on students and teachers in the system….

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