The Chinese education system – with its long school days and tough discipline – tops global league tables. But how did British pupils cope when five Chinese teachers took over part of their Hampshire school?
In the BBC documentary Are Our Kids Tough Enough? an experiment was carried out with fifty children in year nine who had to live under a completely different regime – one run by Chinese teachers.
For four weeks, they wore a special uniform and started the school day at 07:00. Once a week there was a pledge to the flag. Lessons were focused on note-taking and repetition. Group exercise was undertaken. The pupils had to clean their own classrooms. There were two meal breaks in a 12-hour day.
Perhaps as a result of the amount of time spent together, teacher-pupil relationships got better and some pupils began to express a preference for the Chinese style. They liked having to copy “stuff” from the board as they thought this would help them remember it. Some more able pupils also liked the lecture style of the Chinese classroom.
What has been learnt from the experiment? A longer school day would have value for British pupils and teachers should not on occasion be afraid of delivering monologues in the classroom. It is, however, abundantly clear that Chinese parents, culture and values are the real reasons that Shanghai Province tops the oft-cited Pisa tables rather than superior teaching practice. No educational approach or policy is going to turn back the British cultural clock to the 1950s. Nor should it seek to.
BBC magazine 4th August 2015