Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
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This article was published 12/2/2010 (3907 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Reporter Carol Sanders went to rural China for a holiday and stayed at a high school campus. She learned a thing or two about an education system with great expectations and global ambitions.
LANSHAN, China — While Manitoba wrings its hands over releasing high school test scores, what to do with kids who fail a grade, are obese or bullies, the competition from another, poorer province is getting smarter, leaner and meaner.
That province is in China.
In one of the poorest regions of the economic powerhouse of 1.3 billion people, kids are up at 6:30 every morning, working out, doing their own laundry by hand and going to classes 12 hours a day. And they're learning English.
On a cold, dark December morning, a whistle blows over a loudspeaker at 6:30 a.m. followed by a wake-up call and some march music.
It's time for the hundreds of high school kids who live at Lanshan Middle School No. 2 to wake up.
The school is in an agricultural centre in southern Hunan province.
The students get up and gather for exercises accompanied by canned Chinese pop music, then head to the cafeteria. They get their bowl and chopsticks from their cubby and line up for a hot stir-fry breakfast and steamed vegetables. If they want dumplings or doughy sweets, they'll have to pay extra. After breakfast, they wash their bowls and sticks, put them away and head to classes.
The top students are located on the top floors of the school. The Grade 10 high-achievers have to climb up five flights of stairs -- the reward for their hard work is more hard work.
At mid-morning, all the teachers (some wearing high heels) and the students (some wearing slippers) take a break from classes and go for a two-kilometre run around the perimeter of the sprawling high school campus.
It's quite a sight. There's no pissing and moaning or goofing off. The 2,200 kids and teachers joke and chat while they jog. Some high-five a Canadian English teacher as they run past her.
The midday break is not siesta time.
The students head to the study hall to do homework. Before supper, they gather to play basketball, table tennis, soccer, badminton, lift weights or run around the track.
There's no teacher organizing them -- the kids just break off into their groups. And nobody's left out.
The students group themselves according to their skill level, so kids who suck at sports like badminton but like it anyway can still play with someone in their league and have a chance at winning.
The kids who are really good at basketball play with others who are really good. The jocks are constantly being challenged by other jocks, so they can get better.
There are no cliques huddled in corners or slackers sitting on the fence.
It's fun, competitive and inclusive because you get to play even if you're not very good.
About one-third of the students live in dorms on campus. Many of their parents work in factories in another province or their farms are too far from town to commute to school every day.
The high school students do their own laundry near a cold-water tap beside one of the dorms, using a basin and wringing their clothes by hand before hanging them up to dry.
On Saturday mornings, when classes start later and the school day is shorter, a student clean-up crew armed with straw brooms and garbage bags, pails of cold water and rags cleans the school.
Once a month, students have to take their turn, working in groups of three. They sweep the grounds and wash the windows.
They do it freely, while they talk and joke around.
"It's our duty," said Gina, a girl in Grade 10 who wants to join the military. When they had a freak snow storm in Lanshan two years ago, it was the military that rescued people in buses in the ditch and the military that went to help earthquake victims in Sichuan.
She wants to be a soldier so she can travel around China and help people. She's never seen the military in the bad light of Tiananmen Square or Tibet.
The upbeat optimism of Gina and her schoolmates overshadows a lot of darkness -- like when the power goes out. Or the garbage dumpster is filled to overflowing by week's end.
Or when students fall asleep in class because they've stayed up all night studying.
The new boys' dorm looks like a palace for little princes compared to the grungy, gray girls' dorm.
In class, there's a lot of rote learning and memorization, as opposed to creative writing and critical thinking.
And if you're not up to speed, you get left behind.
Middle School No. 2 is for the smartest and hardest working kids in the region. The less-skilled teachers and students are at Middle School No. 1. There appears to be no place for students with disabilities or behaviour problems.
Self-discipline, hard work and proper deportment are the norm.
Teachers say it only takes one meeting with parents to correct a student's misbehaviour.
When a Grade 10 girl got caught putting a note on a boy's back that said "sex monster" she panicked and pleaded with her Canadian English teacher not to tell the principal.
The school doesn't practise corporal punishment -- but parents might. Getting called down to the principal's office because your kid was acting up is a major disgrace in a culture that intensely values education.
In the last 60 years, China's illiteracy rate has dropped to 9.1 percent from 80 per cent in 1949, according to the World Bank. The enrollment rate for primary-school children rose to 99.3 per cent from 20 per cent, and high schools and universities are booming.
We can shame China for its human rights record and feel superior, but that's not going to stop its 1.3 billion people from getting ahead of us, educationally and economically.
The number of Canadians who earn bachelor's degrees is below the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development average and well behind many other nations, the OECD 2009 report Education at a Glance said. Even the number of PhDs has fallen.
The Chinese have a saying "fu bu guo san dai" which means "wealth does not pass three generations." The first generation works extremely hard, the second generation reaps the benefits. The third generation arrives -- and squanders the wealth.
The forces of globalization aren't going to give our kids a break. If we don't equip them to compete with the hundreds of millions of kids schools like Lanshan are turning out, there may not be any wealth to squander when we're gone.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
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