From The Financial Times:
In the auditorium of Beijing Bayi School, on a cold morning thick with smog, props are broken, lines unlearnt and the mechanical curtain has blown a fuse. In four hours, my cast of 22 Chinese 14-year-olds, who have never acted before, will perform Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to an audience of 1,500 — in English. All their education has told them that drama is an irrelevance. As I race around the theatre, trying to track down an absent Grandpa Joe and a missing Golden Ticket I ask myself, not for the first time: what am I doing here?
Chinese education has increasingly been hailed as “superior” to the way we teach in the west in recent years. Its success in global tests for 15-year-olds reinforced this sense of a world tilting to the east: in the 2012 round of the Programme for International Student Assessment tests (Pisa), Shanghai, representing China, came first in science, reading and mathematics. Fretful western governments took note, amid mounting concern that China’s educational success would inevitably pave the way for economic and cultural dominance. Or, as the former UK government minister Michael Gove baldly stated when he was secretary of state for education, the UK can either “start working as hard as the Chinese, or we’ll all soon be working for the Chinese”.
. . . .
As I can confirm from my five weeks at Bayi School last year, school days are definitely a lot longer than in the west. Older pupils started at about 7.30am and continued until 6pm, usually backed up by evening self-study classes. Most schools have classes on Saturdays, too. If they don’t, middle-class parents will arrange private lessons with tutors. Asia is the fastest-growing market in the global private tuition industry, which is forecast by Global Industry Analysts to be worth nearly $200bn by 2020. Students in Shanghai also spend almost 14 hours a week on homework, close to three times the average given by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
. . . .
To China’s educationalists the timing of the western love affair with their system is striking. For the past decade or so wealthy Chinese parents, keen to avoid the test-dominated regime of their own educations, have been sending their teenage offspring to study in America in dramatically increasing numbers: 46,000 Chinese students attended American high schools in 2015, up from just 637 in 2005. In the UK, Chinese are also “by far” the largest group of international students according to the 2016 Independent Schools Council census.
Now these parents are also demanding a more “western” option at home. Wealthier parents have flocked to enrol their children at the newly opened Chinese arms of traditional British private schools such as Wycombe Abbey and Harrow. UK state schools are beginning to get in on the action too; Bohunt, the school from the BBC programme, is opening a private school in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, next year. And it’s not just parents who have an appetite for something different.
More than a decade ago, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a statement denouncing the “exam-oriented education” of China. In the past few years, the ministry has introduced a policy calling for the formal encouragement of “creativity” and “innovation” in schools. The school where I taught has clearly taken heed. Among sections about a “military training that builds spirit” and “an education in Communism”, its prospectus boasts of Bayi’s commitment to “encourage creative awareness and creative acts”.
Link to the rest at The Financial Times (if you hit a paywall, you may want to cut and paste “Why are schools in China looking west for lessons in creativity?” and see what happens)