Op-Ed Contributors

Debate: Education system

Updated: 2011-04-18 08:04

(China Daily)

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Ku Ma

Don't blame system for all the ills

The cry over the exam-oriented Chinese education system being a total failure has gained new strength after a Shanghai student stabbed his mother minutes of returning from Japan. Many say Wang Jiajing stabbed his mother after an argument over tuition fees.

The Chinese media is full of commentaries and opinion articles criticizing the loss of values among today's students, which they blame on the education system.

But is the Chinese education system really a failure?

According to education authorities, about 1.27 million Chinese students were studying abroad at the end of last year. The case of the Japan-returned Wang is just one in 1.27 million. His case has attracted nationwide attention because it is rare. One should not judge the education system on the basis of just one incident.

There is no doubt that the education system, at the school as well as the family level, has a lot of room for improvement.

It is true that many parents, and schools overemphasize the importance of rote learning over creative thinking, competition over cooperation, money and social status over honesty and social service.

But critics are arbitrary to conclude that there is little place for values in today's education system. True, schools don't hold enough classes to teach values (or moral science). But children learn about Chinese philosophy, which actually means values, from the kindergarten text of Sanzijing (Three Character Classic) to the stories in textbooks of primary, middle and high schools.

It is surprising that some people blame the education system for all the social problems, including the Shanghai stabbing case. Why can't they see the good examples? In Hebei province, for instance, 26 classmates of Li Baoyuan, a student at Agricultural University of Hebei, have been supporting his parents after he died of a heart ailment in 1996. Such stories don't catch the media's attention because they talk about love, filial piety, friendship and commitment, not violence and conflicts. Instead of railing at the education system, people should focus on how to educate their children.

Wang's mother reportedly spent as much as she could from her 7,000-yuan monthly salary on Wang's education. Even after being stabbed, she defended her "disturbed" son. Police have said they will not hand over Wang to prosecutors until they get the results of the tests to determine his mental state. Hence, we should not jump at conclusions before the results are known.

But some people blame the mother for pampering and protecting Wang, and thus turning him into a self-centered wreck. Such people should reflect on the actions of the mother of Mencius (c. 372 -289 BC), who can be said to be a typical example of a "Chinese mother". She changed homes three times so that her son could get the best environment for education. She was strict with moral education, asking Mencius never to tell a lie. Once when Mencius complained to her about seeing his wife sitting "improperly" at home, she criticized him, saying that it was improper for him to have entered the room without knocking on the door.

Even Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, who sparked a heated debate on strict "Chinese education", forbids her daughters from staying out at night outside home or showing off their piano skills.

We know that hedonism and worship of money were common traits during the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265-316), and rich men like Shi Chong and Wang Kai loved showing off. Wang used expensive liquid candy to wash his pots. Hearing this Shi burnt more expensive candles to cook. After Wang burnished his house with expensive aromatic material, Shi bought the most expensive marbles to decorate his mansion. And when Wang showed Shi a huge red coral, he broke it and spread out dozens of bigger corals to prove his superiority.

But in the same era we also have the example of Wang Xiang (AD 185-269), one of the legendary "24 Filial Exemplars", who caught fish for his stepmother in winter after thawing the ice covering a lake by lying down on it. Even after becoming a minister, Wang told state officials that they should not make his funeral an extravagant affair.

This shows that the same system of education can produce diametrically opposite results.

But some scholars still insist that the present education system is to be blamed for the extreme cases and for parents' obsession with their children's "success", which we know is not true.

The author is an editor with the Op-Ed department of China Daily.

Debate: Education system

(China Daily 04/18/2011 page9)

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