Like me, you may have enjoyed the recent BBC series “Chinese School”, where Year 9 students at the Bohunt school in Liphook, Hampshire, underwent 4 weeks of Chinese style education, in an experiment to see if they could outperform their peers attending normal British Curriculum classes at the school. You can catch up on the programmes using the BBC iplayer.
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the final episode and are planning on doing so – read the following afterwards!
It was incredible to see how the students of the Chinese school outperformed their peers in Maths, Science and Mandarin, by a considerable margin, especially considering the enlarged class sizes in the Chinese school (up to 50 pupils), the perceived “outdated” use of wrote learning, repetition and lecturing, and the lack of focus and concentration that this often caused within students, used to a broader teaching style and more individual attention.
However, I thought that whilst the programme may have highlighted the key differences between approaches in teaching in British and Chinese schools, it may have missed some of the reinforcement of education basics that the Chinese school put in to practice, and may have gone under the radar due to the TV cameras, and the programme, not focusing on these areas…
1. Physical aspects: Healthy Body, Healthy mind*
The Chinese school image is known for hundreds of students, all in synchrony, waving their arms and stamping their feet in the daily morning excursive routine, and keeping to this the British students were made to carry out this routine too. At first they showed a general apathy and amusement to it, very different than perhaps their normal routines (jumping out of bed at about 8:19 in the case of some of my students!), but soon they were leading the routine themselves, thoroughly enjoying it, and later even taking part in some martial arts and traditional Chinese dance! The effects of exercise on concentration levels and focus are well documented, and no doubt the basics of daily exercise contributed to the students learning and exam performance.
2. The Length of the school day
Whilst students in British schools normally undertake a school day of approximately 6 hours, in the Chinese school they underwent nearer to an 8 hour day, from about 8:30am in the morning to 5pm in the evening, with additional homework after that. The debate on the length of the school day in the UK is fierce, with some arguing longer days increase pressure on students, and take time away from critical relaxation and extra-curricular time to undertake more social, physical, and creative activities. I think however, the reality today is that young people need support in organizing their day and engaging with more constructive activities outside of school, so the students in the Chinese school really benefited from the extra learning time, and showed that children have a capacity to concentrate and work for longer than we perhaps think, if we are prepared to invest the time in sticking to a longer school day. Results on the programme showed that the increased learning time did pay off.
Chinese school on the BBC was an interesting and informative watch, and did much to highlight the differences in education systems across the world. Personally, with an increased learning time, and more physical activity added to daily curriculum, I think these are two points the Chinese system of education has got right.
*also see: Smart Moves: Why Learning is not all in your head; Carla Hannford (2005) 2nd edition