Another Kind of Classroom: School in China

In China, when the teacher comes into the classroom, the class monitor usually asks the whole class to stand up and make a bow. The teacher says hello to the students with a smiling face. Here at U-32, when students come into the classroom, they hang out with friends and usually talk to the teacher about what they are going to do that day.  

Schools in China are more formal,  and the competition among students is intense. Chinese students work hard and focus on academic courses. In America students have more free time to explore what they like.   

One of the biggest differences between education in China and in United States is the way students select classes. Students in the United States usually have more freedom to choose the subjects they like. They are better able to develop their talents and work hard on a subject that may interest them in their adult life.

The students in China are not allowed to pick their subjects. Instead, they are told to focus on language and science courses rather than any electives, such as arts.

“We have eight academic courses,”said Zhiling Lu, 17, a Chinese student at Liangfeng High School in the city of Suzhou. “In China, all the students need to take these classes and pass the exams. We have no choice.”

              

A classroom at Liangfeng High School in Suzhou, China     

        

There are more rules in China than in America. By comparison, the teachers in China are also more strict.

With more than 40 students in one class in China, the teacher often does not have time to correct the students’ answers with a helpful explanation, rather they will simply say whether the answer is right or wrong.

“Students are required to stand up to answer the question in order to show their respect to the teacher,” Zhiling Lu said. “I feel very disrespectful to interrupt my teachers while they are teaching.”  

In the United States, students  stay in their seats and answer the questions. Classes generally are smaller, and teachers can more directly help students with their homework, and correct their mistakes and then show them the right answers. In other words, teachers are better able to offer one-to-one guidance.

In China, it is also required that each student take class notes, which is often not  case in America.

“Whether a student can do a good job in class notes,” Zhiling Lu said, “all depends on students ourselves.”

In China and the U.S., high school students who wish to enter a good college and achieve success often spend lots of time studying, but in China it is even more time than in the U.S.

“My school starts at 7 a.m.and finishes at 9 p.m., but I always spend 30 more minutes meeting with teachers to solve problems,” said Wen Yu, a junior. “Usually I spend all my free time to do my homework and do the extra exercises. It takes me about three hours on the school work.”

“We only have a day to rest every weekend, and we have to study even Sunday night,” said Feiyu Qi, a junior and top student, who hopes to enter a first-rate university. “During the weekend, I always have extra classes out of the school, which I need to take to improve my grades.”

The pressure is on, especially in the senior year. For many students the only time after class is occupied by various “cram schools”– classes outside the regular school where students pay for help preparing for tests.

Students have few extra-curricular activities. “Everyone is taking extra classes,” Feiyu Qi added. “If I don’t take them, I cannot catch them [other top students] and get good grades.”

In America school finishes early, so students can participate in various activities — such as basketball, baseball, football, field hockey, art and dance. This is an important aspect of high school in the United States. It can be as important as the academic subjects.

In China, schools are focused on one purpose: preparing students for the next step. The purpose for middle schools is to get into a good high school. For high schools, the purpose is to get into a good college. The final purpose is to get a well-paying job. Many students are successful in China, but they give up a lot of time for school that Americans often use to have fun.

“I was interested in painting before,” Feiyu Qi said, “but my parents thought I needed to focus on my study. Painting cannot give me a good life in the future.”