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The Sad Truth of China’s Education 中国教育的悲哀  

2011-06-08 20:53:53|  分类: 昌所欲言 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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By Jiang Xueqin   蒋学琴

Next week, Chinese students take the national college entrance exam. It’s the soul-destroying culmination of years of study. And as good as it gets.

下周,高考。学习灵魂的毁灭与终结。

June 7 and 8 are the two days that China’s senior three students (twelfth graders) have lived the first 18 years of their lives for, and whatever anxiety, neurosis, and insanity that has simmered beneath the surface among students, parents, and teachers this past year will now reach its climax.

黑色6月7-8号,18年存在的意义,焦虑、紧张、错乱,达到峰顶。

Everyone’s in agreement: the national college entrance examination (gaokao) robs Chinese students of their curiosity, creativity, and childhood.

有目共睹,高考掠夺了好奇心、创造力和美好童年。

So as gaokao students, with their thick textbooks and memory pills, sequester themselves in four-star hotels while their parents prowl the neighbourhood for construction noise and rambunctious restaurant patrons, now might be a good time to devise an alternative to the gaokao.

死记硬背的考生,住在星级酒店,家长无微不至的关怀,是时候做个了断了。

In his book A Theory of Justice, the political philosopher John Rawls conducted a thought experiment in which people, shrouded under a ‘veil of ignorance,’ were asked to devise a new social structure to live under. Unsure of their lot in this new society, people would be risk-averse, John Rawls assumed, and would agree to a society that ‘maximised the minimum,’ which is to say a society that aimed for equality, fairness, and social mobility.

有个政治家从他的《正义论》中假设,人们通过智力测试,去除无知,构建新社会后,由于缺乏自信,规避风险,愿意更加公平、公正和自由。

So let us return to John Rawls’ ‘original position’ and ‘veil of ignorance,’ gather 1.3 billion Chinese into a nice conference room, and see if we can all work together to negotiate an alternative to the gaokao.

如要全民公决高考,

Because everyone in the room has Chinese cultural values and lives in the not too pleasant realities of modern China, there’ll be certain constraints that this new education system must consider.

劳苦大众将会考虑:

First, every Chinese can agree that this new education system ought to be a meritocracy and that the most diligent and brightest students ought to reach the top.

首先,新教育体系必须让精英得以发挥极致。

Second, every Chinese can agree that China has limited education resources for too many people; while it would be nice to educate everyone to the best ability of the state as is the case in Finland and Singapore, China is too poor to do so.

其次,教育资源短缺有限,政府无力承担。

Third, China is a guanxi-based society with little respect for institutions, processes, and laws; whatever new system that everyone agrees to must be able to resist the pull and power of the well-connected and wealthy.

第三,中国是人际社会,无视法律和程序,新体系必须杜绝权贵影响。

 Fourth, Chinese can agree that education is first and foremost about social mobility (rather than about national economic development), about the opportunity for anyone who is willing to work hard to rise in society.

第四,教育是社会进步的动力。

So, given all this, we can now begin constructing an alternative to the gaokao.

综上,再说高考。

First, this alternative must be an objective indicator of a student’s academic performance.

首先,它必须是学生学术素养的客观表现。

 College admissions committees or admission interviews would be unacceptable because it would offer too much power to individuals and institutions that can’t be trusted.

学术委员会不可信,存在人为因素。

No one would agree to a college lottery whereby qualified students are just randomly assigned a college.

录取不是抽奖。

 And artificial intelligence technology hasn’t yet advanced to the point where computers can replace college admissions officers. Thus, the only alternative seems to be a series of tests.

电脑还不能取代人,只能一系列的考试。

But even with tests we need to consider what we want to test.

考你所想考。

 If we were to test writing and thinking ability, then that would mean an automatic bias towards the children of well-educated parents who have from an early age discuss books, current affairs, and travel plans with their child over the dinner table.

考写作和思考,有利于那些见多识广的孩子。

Moreover, to teach thinking and writing (or any soft skills such as creativity and collaboration) would require highly specialised and highly professional teachers who would naturally congregate in expensive private schools or prestigious public schools in Beijing and Shanghai.

高徒需名师,

 And if this were the case, China would just be like the United States, where education is monopolised by the self-perpetuating and self-interested educated elite, and social mobility through education becomes a distant dream for everyone else.

 

But China has 800 million peasants who depend on schooling as their child’s only chance out of the rice fields. Rural children don’t have access to the libraries, well-trained teachers, and intellectual spaces that wealthy cities can offer — all they have is their willingness to work hard to improve themselves. If Chinese believe in fairness and social mobility, then tests must be more about the student’s ability to memorise the textbooks he has access to, rather than about his ability to think critically, which is the result of making the most of a special set of resources available only to society’s elite.

So, if we were to start from scratch and try to build an alternative to the gaokao, we would end up with as the only viable alternative…the gaokao. That’s what a lot of people tend to forget: that given the complete lack of trust in each other and in institutions, given the stifling poverty that most Chinese find themselves in, and given China’s endemic corruption and inequality, the gaokao, for better or worse, is the fairest and most humane way to distribute China’s scare education resources.

Yes, the images of children memorising and regurgitating away for 18 years may be disheartening. The poor eyesight, bad posture, and crushing of imagination, independence, and initiative will haunt them for the rest of their lives. But we must remember that many of these children and their families find themselves fortunate just to be able to dream of a better life.

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