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Cramming for College at Beijing's Second High
August 18, 2011 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Cramming for College at Beijing's Second High.
posted by mudpuppie (32 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
sweet mother of mercy
posted by Chekhovian at 1:52 PM on August 18, 2011


At least they don't make them take the test in boxes anymore.
posted by griphus at 1:55 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


this sounds absolutely terrifying. I wonder what happens to dropouts in China?
I probably would have survived this regiment for about two weeks before running amok.
posted by ts;dr at 2:09 PM on August 18, 2011


Senior Henry Fang Ce, who serves as class monitor, hopes to be an arms dealer someday.

I really wish I had this as a stock response back when "what do you want to be when you grow up?" was the first and last thing any adult asked me.
posted by theodolite at 2:09 PM on August 18, 2011 [22 favorites]


We get alot of international students from main land China at the University I work at. This article helps to explain alot.
posted by Gwynarra at 2:11 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"In America, one of my friends encouraged her child to be a zookeeper because the child said he wanted to be a zookeeper," Zheng says incredulously. "The parents were proud!"

Sorry, China, but you're wrong on this one; being a zookeeper would be awesome.
posted by reductiondesign at 2:34 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really wish I had this as a stock response back when "what do you want to be when you grow up?" was the first and last thing any adult asked me.

You and Rimbaud.
posted by joe lisboa at 2:38 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is pretty literally what my life would've been like had my parents not spirited me away to be brought up in a heathen Western culture. I read this article more with resignation than with surprise, since my cousins are still caught in this trap, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much it got right.

Cross-posted from my Google Plus:

What they didn't mention is the rampant corruption that exists in the system. The burnt-out-girl who only got in the high 500s? If her parents were rich enough and knew the right people to talk to, that can be, ahem, overlooked.

As I understand it, wanting to do well in the gaokao is as much about getting into a good university as it is about not wanting their parents to spend their life savings to "court" the right people. I know students whose parents have spent upward of 10,000 yuan because their scores were 10 or 20 points off.
posted by Phire at 2:41 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Earlier this year I read School of Dreams: Making the Grade at a Top American High School. Those students' stories don't seem that different from these Chinese students', though there isn't a single high-stakes exam to study for so it's a bit different. They make interesting complementary reading, though.
posted by not that girl at 2:58 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


What they didn't mention is the rampant corruption that exists in the system.

They strongly implied it. Either corruption or just blatant unfairness:

About a decade ago, after reports that Beijing students got into elite institutions despite scoring lower than students from other parts of China, authorities stopped giving the same gaokao nationwide. If you live in Beijing, you are 30 times more likely to get into Tsinghua than if you live in Shandong Province, which is akin to saying that a Bostonian would be 30 times more likely to get into Harvard than a kid from Vermont.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:02 PM on August 18, 2011


It's this sort of thing that makes all of those "Chinese students are outperforming US students" articles laughable. Especially since the students stuck in the rural schools because they couldn't study or bribe their way into a city high school tend to be conveniently left out of those kinds of International tests.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:05 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


^in that very article you posted, it clearly said in the second paragraph: "the scores from Shanghai are by no means representative of all of China."
posted by yifes at 3:08 PM on August 18, 2011



About a decade ago, after reports that Beijing students got into elite institutions despite scoring lower than students from other parts of China, authorities stopped giving the same gaokao nationwide. If you live in Beijing, you are 30 times more likely to get into Tsinghua than if you live in Shandong Province, which is akin to saying that a Bostonian would be 30 times more likely to get into Harvard than a kid from Vermont.


Well, sort of corruption. As it was explained to me - as it's been several years since I was over there and I didn't go back to check my notes - is that the governmental apparatus in china is a lot more provincial that you might think from a giant centralized communist uhhh technocracy or what-have-you. So, if I'm born in Wuhan, I get all these great state services. I'm free to move to Shanghai if I want to try to make my fortune or whatever, but they're not going to give me any of those state services. (how those state services are provided even when one is where they, uhh, "belong" anyway is kind of difficult to grasp, much less explain.)

The school selection system seemed also to factor into that same concept. If you were submitting scores from a school from outside your province you had to submit substantially higher scores for admittance.

I'm not sure if I was told this outright or not, but I have a strong suspicion that it is an intentional policy to act as a check on an even more uncontrollable rate of rural depopulation and urban expansion.
posted by absalom at 3:15 PM on August 18, 2011


> About a decade ago, after reports that Beijing students got into elite institutions despite scoring lower than students from other parts of China...

The Canadian version of this is the high schools in, shall we say, more affluent areas of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver that hand out marks in the 90s like they're candy so their students can get into the "best" schools. Marks-wise I barely scraped into my university, and went in assuming I was the dumbest person there because I was surrounded by rich kids whose averages were 10-15% higher than mine. Once classes began I quickly realized this was...not true.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:27 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of the most important ways a country can develop economically is by filtering out its smartest, hardest-working young people and channeling them toward professional careers. The US does this by sending everyone with a brain to four years of college and maybe grad school, and those that manage to get great grades in challenging subjects end up in those professional careers. China can't afford to send everyone to college, so it just gives people a horrifyingly difficult test up front. It's a scarier system, but it may well be more efficient -- which is critical if you only have a very limited number of slots for college students.
posted by miyabo at 3:31 PM on August 18, 2011


The Canadian version of this is the high schools in, shall we say, more affluent areas of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver that hand out marks in the 90s like they're candy so their students can get into the "best" schools.

In Alberta, the grades that mattered most for university admission when I was in HS were the standardized provincial test scores (the "diploma exams"). You can't inflate those grades, at least not below the level of the province as a whole. They were all graded in Edmonton.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:36 PM on August 18, 2011


Looks like they repurposed the old Communist Re-Education Camp methods rather successfully...
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:41 PM on August 18, 2011


I was in Ontario...admittedly, the process might be very different now, but in my day there were no standardized tests to level things out. The only thing that mattered was your top six OAC (Ontario Academic Credit) marks.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:42 PM on August 18, 2011


The US turns out way too many high school graduates who can barely read or write. China turns out graduates who have spent so much time cramming that they haven't had time to think for themselves. There is clearly some sort of excluded middle here, but what is it?
posted by jiawen at 3:51 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've spent a good deal of time discussing differences in Chinese and American education with educators from China. One said something that is similar to what jiawan just wrote.

He felt that Chinese students in general were self disciplined, but often incapable of being creative.

American students, from his observations, were creative, but often lacked self-discipline.

He, too pondered that it would be great to find a way to split the difference.

Presumably, he lacked the creativity to come up with one, and I was too undisciplined to bother.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:57 PM on August 18, 2011 [18 favorites]


China has a long loooong history with national exams. Today the subjects are more practical, but much of the spirit remains the same.

I remember readings some old Qing dynasty sources where certain provincial families could report from memory the examination results of their grandparents and had great pride in their family having a member in the scholar class.

It may sound kind of ridiculous to be remembered by your descendants for an exam score, but the mainstream respect for intellectual pursuits is certainly something I wouldn't mind seeing more of.
posted by Winnemac at 4:00 PM on August 18, 2011


I was an exchange student at this school as well. Each morning all the students lined up to do aerobics to peppy music. As a foreigner, I was exempt. My host brother, who went there also, had six hours of leisure time a week. He usually spent it people watching at the Ikea near our apartment.
posted by dadaclonefly at 5:54 PM on August 18, 2011


People shouldn't assume that because one high-school in China is like this, they all are. There are plenty of places where kids don't get great educations, I think.
posted by delmoi at 9:38 PM on August 18, 2011


It didn't sound like they got great educations there, unless the point of the education is to produce good midlevel party functionaries, which I suppose it is.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:40 PM on August 18, 2011


The US does this by sending everyone with a brain to four years of college

Hmm. I find statements like yours rather brainless.

Some of the very brightest people I've known have not had college degrees, and in some cases have not attended college at all. What's required to attend college is not so much a brain as it is sufficient conformity to demonstrate to educators that you can use your brain for what they want you to use it for.

I did eventually go back and get a degree, but after high school, I insisted on living my life as a musician, because that is what I wanted to do, and I had the will to do it, and the BRAIN to figure out my own values and how they differed from what most adults were clamoring for me to do.

One of the absolute most brilliant people I know had one semester at Berkeley and that's it. I think of people like that when I see or hear statements sweeping aside the intelligence of anyone who didn't graduate college.
posted by parrot_person at 10:40 PM on August 18, 2011


Everybody needs a hug.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:08 PM on August 18, 2011


I'm not really sure what all the grar is with this. The study regime sounds not that dissimilar to kids hoping to ace the SATs.
posted by bystander at 1:24 AM on August 19, 2011


Sorry for the ensuing semi-tangent, but the picture of those girls exercising their eyes suddenly brought memories of my university entrance examinations in India. Oh boy, so many uncomfortable memories. Attended a cram-school/ "coaching institute" some 12 years back in India that had the following rules:

1) Ban jackets from class, even in winter; people wearing them "showed too much attitude". Sweaters were recommended.

2) Discourage any interaction between girls and boys.

3) Insist that the only appropriate wear for class was full-sleeves shirts and pants. Untucked. (I never really understood that last bit)

4) Recommend that the only form of relaxation be 'long walks'. Even watching movies in the cinema on the weekends was frowned upon.

And oh, did I mention that the classes were between 5AM and 8AM? Three hours before "regular" classes at a junior college. College ended at 1PM, there was a three hour break, and then there was coaching again at 5PM to 9PM. All this to score well in what is considered one of the most competitive exams in the world.

Now, until that point, I was studying under an Indian simulacrum of the British public school, so was quite big on stuff outside class as well, like quiz, debates, range-firing (NCC!) and other extra-curricular stuff, so the culture-shock for me was quite big.

In fact, so great was the pressure in coaching and college, that the best time I had during those two years was when I took two weeks off to prepare for the SAT's. I suppose there was a bit of that exotic novelty in trying to understand an American examiner's frame of mind, but man, preparing for SAT's was nice. Not saying it was _easy_, merely that it was nice.

Oh yeah, there was also voodoo: along with 'exercises' to improve concentration, and something else to maximize chakras or some crap. All this daily before Physics class started, which in turn was in order to get into India's best technical universities. To learn engineering, you must ignore science I guess.

While I escaped the rat-race and was somehow able to craft my university experience to my liking, I'm also quite certain that this ultra-disciplinary cram school pressure-cooker of an environment carries into other areas too. For instance, I absolutely hate working in India with my India-based offshore colleagues mainly for the work-environment they've created there.

It's a cynical way of looking at things, but most software "campuses" in India, minus Google and Microsoft perhaps, now resemble cram-school for adults out there, albeit with world-class infrastructure (coffee machines that serve masala tea, for one). Buses that pick people up early in the morning, a regimental set of regulations that are crafted to be completely disciplinary, colleagues stifling under the oppression trying to find ways to break rules... all quite uncomfortable reminders of what I left 12 years back. I've heard that some (Indian) software firms now even provide meditation classes for applicants to their jobs; apparently, HR decided they could be legally liable for the pressure the applicants find themselves in their three-day interviews / exams. It's ridiculous.
posted by the cydonian at 4:26 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


bystander, kids hoping to ace the SATs would cause grar too.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:14 AM on August 19, 2011


"The number of test-takers has fallen; 9.3 million people sat for the 2011 gaokao, down from 10.5 million in 2008. That's due partly to the dearth of jobs for college graduates who did not attend top-tier universities. And more students are going abroad. "Urban students especially take the SAT instead," says Zhang. "People are finding more paths.""

While this is true, I think it might be important to mention that most of that drop is due to a drop in the number of 18 year olds in the country. It's not really that people are finding more paths; it's more about there being fewer people.

Also, the whole not-creative-test-taking-machine stereotype was wrong in the 80s when it was applied to Japanese students, and it is just as wrong now when applied to Chinese students.
posted by wobumingbai at 8:37 AM on August 19, 2011


Anecdata, but: I began my standardized test training at the age of seven, in a mainstream NYC public school in the 1980s. We practiced bubbling with #2 pencils, discussed strategies for choice-elimination and guessing, and because the teacher was a little hippie-ish, practiced meditative breathing techniques and chanting a positive mantra (something along the lines of "I am smart, I am capable, I am calm, and I can do this!").

Fast-forward to my liberal-artsy, magnet high school, and you better believe that students were spending hundreds of hours (and often, thousands of dollars) prepping for the SAT. They were usually the same kids who had spent hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars) prepping for the test to get into that high school. An acquaintance of mine took the SAT for the first time, and got a 1600. He then took it again, to prove he could do it twice, just in case colleges thought it was some kind of fluke.

The whole "Fuck yeah, we're creative, they're robots!" thing has always seemed kind of specious. I bet some of the billion-and-a-third people in China are pretty creative. And I can tell you that some of the 300 million people here aren't. And then there are the folks in both countries who excel at testing and calculation, and are incredibly creative, and who should stop making the rest of us look bad. Jerks.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:36 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


It looks like things have not changed much in elite urban high-schools in China in nearly 20 years. The eye-exercise is now at least accompanied by new music. I would have thought they are more relaxed about high-school romances now. Of course, there's always the talk and then there's the walk.

Sophie says. "My mom is annoying. She's always asking about my friends' grades. It's rude."
This amuses me. In 5 years it will be their salary (always measured as yuan per month), in 10 it would be how much they paid for their apartments.
posted by of strange foe at 1:56 PM on August 19, 2011


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