Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Monday, 10 October 2011

China: School Life

This weekend I worked on Sunday and it was because of an oddity of
Chinese scheduling. Last week was a holiday. Only four weeks into the
term and it was a holiday. Specifically October 1st was the National
Day Holiday but people had the whole week off.
At least some people did. Some people had part of the week off, two or
three days.
This is where it gets a bit complicated for schools.
The Middle schools basically have four grades - Junior 1 and 2 and
Senior 1 and 2. The junior classes had off the whole week but the
senior classes had off only Monday and Tuesday.
Even though we teach a mixture of junior and senior we were told to
take the whole week. When I asked what would happen in the lessons I
usually teach I was told that they would be taken by Chinese teachers.
Fair enough. I'm not going to complain about being given time off.

I was, however, also told that my holiday was from 1st to 7th of
October and that I would have to go in on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th.
As I have no classes on those days it seemed odd. I questioned it and
found out that when the schools have holidays for one or two days the
days get shuffled forward to compensate so that last week, for seniors
only, Wednesday became a logical Monday with a Monday schedule,
Thursday became Tuesday, Friday became Wednesday and, of course,
Saturday and Sunday became Thursday and Friday. To confuse matters
even more although the juniors didn't have to come in on any of the
weekdays, the juniors who would have had classes on Thursday and
Friday did have to come in on the weekend. Every single one of them
showed up as normal.
Apparently this kind of thing is perfectly commonplace here.

There is another difference worthy of note. It's not in the scheduling
but in the attitude that is drilled into students right from the start
of their school lives. It's best illustrated by something that happens
at the end of every lesson. Before I am even out of the room one
student - presumably previously chosen by his class teacher - will be
at the board cleaning it with wet rags and a bucket of water. Another
will have a broom sweeping the floor clean. A third will be tidying
the teacher's desk.
Out in the corridors groups of students will be similarly employed,
sweeping and cleaning. I saw today a very rare instance of a piece of
chewing gum on the floor. A student was cleaning it up with a razor
blade. In every break the chrome on the hand rails will be polished
back to a shine, the halls returned to a perfect new condition. And
all of it is done by the students. I don't know if the school ever
uses professional cleaners but if they do there can't be much work for
Students are even used to clean out the toilets!

I can't imagine any school in the UK or the US even being allowed to
use students this way and, even if they were, it would most likely be
as a punishment and done grudgingly, if at all. Here the students seem
to compete for the privilege of doing it all.

A third oddity is one that may well account for this attitude though
it's one I can't bring myself to approve of. Coming from the west it
is very disturbing to now be working in a culture where physical
punishment is not just allowed but commonplace.A Chinese teacher
recently said to me, "I only beat them when they need it or when I get
angry." and all three of us teaching here in Baiyin have been told
that we should beat them if we need to. Naturally none us is ever
likely to do that. I'm only familiar with British law on the subject
not US law but in the UK we are only allowed to even touch a child to
prevent immediate physical danger: if he's about to fall out of a
third floor window, for example. We are not even allowed to be alone
in a room with a student. And now people are telling me that it's OK
to "beat them".

Sometimes school life here can be very different!