Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Reporting on our China Trip

Whilst Elli and I are still processing our sentiments from our recent trip to China, here are some shoot from the hip observations.

  • China is urbanising at a phenomenal rate. We were staying in a backwater city, the equivalent of a market town like Worcester, but it still had a population of 5 million - bigger than every city in the UK apart from London.
  • China is communist pretty much in name only - whilst officially the political system remains - probably still strong in the rural areas - the ideals being flaunted on their billboards and TV commercials, are the American dream played with new Chinese actors.
  • We never saw a house whilst we were there, only blocks of flats and parks.
  • The Chinese work so hard, because they are highly motivated, but also because their odds of success are small.  Like everywhere else, there are many more people than jobs.
  • The one child policy means that soon, there will be one child supporting up to six adults - his parents and grand-parents. The whole of the developed world is getting top heavy.
  • Due the one child policy, sex selective pregnancy has been rife. There are many more boys around than girls.
  • Property speculators are buying up new flats in the hope of selling them on at a profit, but this is driving the price of property up for everyone else who can't afford them now. Like in the UK, a starting teacher has to move back in with his parents and get a job in their home city or rent a room somewhere - social mobility is still relatively limited.
  • Most of China is still ethnically monochrome. Apart from one English conversation teacher we met at the school, we were the only non-chinese people we saw all week in a city of 5 million and as a result we were looked at a lot - especially by small children.
  • Food - amazing and very healthy, if at times a little spicy - we ate loads and put on no weight!
  • Friendliness - all the people we met were genuinely warm and welcoming especially our hosts.
  • Appreciation of cultural heritage - students and teachers alike all had a strong affinity to their history and tradition - unlike us English teachers who, when asked to sing Auld Lang Synd, could barely remember the words between us! 
  • Chinese education is free at primary and middle school level, but families have to make a contribution to high school education.
  • Progress to the next year is about stage not age. So you will often get different aged kids in the same class. 
  • Teachers only teach two lessons a day, but with classes of 60 students, there's a heck of a lot more marking.
  • Teaching is genuinely child-centred. This is what surprised us the most. Children are told to chase their dreams not conform to state expectations.
  • Teachers all enter a national teaching competition with heats and a final winner.
  • High school kids finish lessons at about 8:30pm and then have about 4hrs homework.
  • Chinese teachers face the same issues there as we do here. Namely being caught in the middle between central government's obsession with outputs and the deep conviction that what makes life worth living is more than the sum of our measurable achievements.
And for those who love pandas...

Here is a video from the Panda Preservation Reserve in Chengdu:

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