My son was accepted by Peking University this year. We are very happy with his success, but as a caring, loving father, I know how much my son struggled and was pushed by the educational system in his early school years. Growing up in today's Chinese educational system is not easy or pleasant. Many of my son's friends were greatly disappointed when they were not accepted by a "good" university after so many years of working hard together with their parents. Tragically some students choose suicide to express their disappointment.
Students in China spend 12 or more years fighting to stand out in the compulsory school system and most do not enjoy their school life. My family had to move three times in order to support my son each time he was accepted into another level of school. Many students stay at their school 11 hours a day for years, doing many things which do not interest them. During my son's 12 years of compulsory schooling, we also paid a lot of extra money for part-time classes on Saturdays and even Sundays to help him achieve a higher academic standard. These are difficult classes and most students have no interest in the subjects. Some parents take their child, some as young as two or three years old, to part-time Math classes. It is ridiculous, but they do it to ensure success in the Chinese educational system.
After so many years of hard work and bitterness, what has my son learned and what benefits has he gained in his early education? My son is a good and kind young man, but it is clear that he is not as mature as he should be considering the hardness he experienced. He had no time for extra reading neither did he attend many community activities. All he did was prepare for one exam after another, recite, and do a lot of boring test papers. Many times he told me he didn't like his school and didn't like studying. Now he is in his college and he is very excited but he doesn't know what he wants to do and he is actually very confused. Although my wife and I are trying to help him adjust he still struggles greatly about what he wants to do in the future.
I understand why many Chinese parents choose to pay large amounts of money to send their child overseas for school even though they really don't want their young child to be away from them nd many struggle financially to support them. The number of overseas Chinese students increases every year, yet it is obvious that the majority of Chinese parents do not have the finances to send their child overseas for school.
I have visited many American middle and high schools. I have seen that in the American or western educational system, students have the opportunity to develop creativity and character, to develop themselves and their interests. They work hard but they also enjoy their school years. I want Chinese families to have this kind of education. My dream is to see American-style schools in China with more Chinese children benefitting from them.
The Chinese government is sensing the problem within its educational system, and they are working on education reform, although there are many struggles with those who have reservations about the process. Recently the Shanghai government allowed New York University to open a branch campus in Shanghai with NYU's values and teachers. Chinese policies are increasingly open to western styles of education allowing increasing numbers of foreign colleges to open campuses across China. However, it is still hard to imagine western high schools and middle schools coming into Chinese educational circles because the Chinese system requires test-based preparation while the western system is not on the same page.
And yet now is the time to open and develop western-style middle and high schools in China. It will be worth the effort if their primary purpose is to impact Chinese youth.
China does have many legal private middle and high schools, but most of these schools are very expensive and not available to the majority of Chinese families. While desiring to impact youth, their primary goal is to make money and so they choose to serve only the wealthy.
My dream is to see visionary people invest in schools that will educate and influence children from ordinary Chinese families. These schools would emphasize building character and developing creativity. Students may work even harder than in government schools but it will be their choice so they will enjoy their studies. This type of education will also prepare them to be good citizens with wisdom and understanding. Recognizing that most Chinese parents lack models and experience in raising and nurturing their children due to the one-child policy, these schools would have the desire and calling to work together with parents in educating students.
When could this dream come true? Many Chinese parents share this dream and like birth of a baby, it is hard to wait. Today more Chinese people are starting small schools - even illegally. Some are home schooling with the help of international friends; others are struggling to obtain a license to start their own style of school. It is exciting and things are happening.
Who are these innovative and concerned parents? What kind of risks are they taking? Most are Christians. Some are highly educated; others are not. Some are financially well off; others have less income. Most are Christian urban migrants.
Public schools in China are the best equipped schools, but the academic atmosphere is completely evolutionary. Parents who want their children educated in an environment that reflects their beliefs and values are taking a risk. Sending their children to these small, new schools or home schooling takes them out of the Chinese compulsory educational system which will result in them having almost no chance to get into good universities in China.
And yet these parents also see and understand that China has entered a new stage and society is seeing the value of character and skills, rather than just a degree from a "good" university. Parents are more confident that if their children have good character and skills they can thrive. As more parents understand this, they are encouraging their children to apply to vocational schools, start businesses or learn practical skills outside of schools rather than prepare for the national college entrance exam.
This time in Chinese social development sets the stage for opening American-style high schools in China. While many families financially can't send their children overseas to high school, sending their children to American-style schools in China is possible. The market for such schools is huge and the opportunity for influencing Chinese youth is great. Many international schools in China see this clearly, and are searching for ways to recruit students. And yes, they get a lot of students but again these students are primarily from rich families, because the tuition is high and the students have to have a foreign passport to attend.
I believe opening American-style high schools in China and partnering with or rather training Chinese parents to educate their children is possible now. It is time to challenge American Christian high schools to consider starting branch campuses. It may be necessary to use another name for their Chinese branch campuses but it will be worth it to impact young lives in China.
May this dream come true soon!
For more on this topic read the summer issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly - "Partnering with Chinese Families to Educate Students in Christian U.S. High Schools"
Steven is the director and main founder of both a language training school and cultural exchange company and formerly taught English in a Beijing public school. His passion is to help Chinese children speak good oral English and to learn about and understand western culture. His training school and... View Full Bio