How many of you watched the BBC three part documentary “Are Our Kids Tough Enough”? How did you find it?
The first two parts were shown in the previous two weeks and the final part will be shown this week.
I watched the first part with my English husband, and we responded to it quite differently. Having been through a more strict English school in his time and having been a much more motivated and disciplined pupil himself, and having been working for UK higher education for the best part of his working life, he was not at all pleased to see the British children misbehaving in class. So he was ranting during the programme, as well as venting his frustration on Twitter, which at the time was all the rage in condemning the British pupils, their lack of respect and discipline.
Personally, I did not get angry or upset, as I could see it more objectively, from a perspective of someone who have been through both Chinese and British educational system.
I had been put through a typical Chinese education regime, all the way from primary school to University, at a time when misbehaving was never an issue and excelling in class was a must, not a choice. All of my teachers were strict, some more severe than others, and even naughty boys in class restricted their misdemeanours to outside the classroom and behind teacher’s backs. Openly disrespecting one’s teachers and disobeying them was a ‘crime’, not in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of one’s parents and society at large.
After I arrived in the UK and during my time in both Scotland and England, I had an opportunity to work in secondary schools, first in a state school in a rough area of Glasgow, then a long stint of teaching Mandarin in a very posh private school in the depth of North Yorkshire. I must admit that the experiences I have had in two different types of schools contrasted so much that it might as well been on a different planet. While working as a support teacher in a state school was quite a challenging one, with me often in tears, like the Chinese teachers in the BBC programme, teaching Mandarin to well-behaved pupils in an exclusive public school was more rewarding.
Needless to say, the BBC documentary brought back those memories, and my heart goes out to the five Chinese teachers, as well as teachers who are working in British schools in general.
The first two parts of BBC documentary, to me, shows a tremendous clash of two very different cultures. There are three fundamental aspects of the clash I can identify:
1) Class discipline is appalling – the Chinese teachers may have suffered more than their British counterparts, but as my real-life story testified above, many children in UK schools generally do not behave.
2) The pupils do not respect teachers – in China, teachers may no longer be treated like deity, as people did in Confucius’ time, but they still command respect. Do you know that a Teacher’s Day is celebrated every September?
3) The UK pupils are not adaptable – I can hear arguments about what distinguishes the UK system as developing pupils to be independent and creative thinkers. That is one of the main reasons that UK higher education, to a certain extent, secondary education too, is attracting international students from all over the world, and especially from China. While we expect the international students to adapt to the UK system fairly quickly and without question, how did this group of 13-14 year olds perform when they had a chance of a lifetime to experience a system which is just as alien to them as the British system is to their Chinese counterparts on the other side of the world?
I applaud that a British school agreed to this experiment and BBC decided to film this documentary. It makes people think, and debate about today’s education. Both British and Chinese media and social media are debating about the Chinese School, with contrasting views. No one is saying that the Chinese system is the best in the world, far from it, but how should we approach teaching and learning in the 21st century?
I look forward to the final part of this programme and finding out if the British kids are “tough enough”. Are they equipped to face the inevitable competition in the future global market? Who do you think will be the winners?