Tom Kirkham: Going to school in Gansu – impressions of Chinese Education – China, November 2017

在甘肃省上学 – 我对中国教育的印象


English Corner at Number 4 Middle School

English Corner at Number 4 Middle School

“音标你可不会啊! 那你们英国人怎么学会生词的发音呢?”
You don’t know the IPA? Then how do British people learn to pronounce new words?


On the way from Lanzhou to Huixian, I was asked this question by a teacher. Everyone involved in education in China uses the International Phonetic Alphabet as a means of systematically learning pronunciation; in fact people feel lost without it, never having considered that there might be another way. In my view, this example sums up the general approach to teaching here, that is one which emphasizes writing and grammar, with the textbook as a starting point. Doing things this way definitely has its pros and cons.

在中国,教科书因为必不可少,所以学校里面有的是。图书馆里面的书各类繁多,一应俱全。中国的教育水平毫无疑问遥遥领先于其他新兴国家, 甚至西方国家。数学的话,中国初三学生要面临的问题,我们英国人11年纪才碰到。诚然,中国的学生擅长数学是人所共知的事实,但是,最令人吃惊的是,要说历史,标准一样高。中国学生一上高中时,他们已经学过三年多的历史,已比较了解祖国的悠久历史沿革,开始仅仅学习世界历史。所涉及的题目林林总总,连宪章运动之类的鲜为人知题目也在其中。当我的汉语老师提到了这个主题,他的问题使我措手不及。许多老师强调,学世界历史的义务显示中国的年轻一代越来越开明,更了解中国以外的生活。

In China, with the textbook being as central as it is, the library has all kinds of books – all that you could need. The standard of education in China is without a doubt far higher than in other emerging nations, even Western countries. Take mathematics: the sort of problems which Chinese year nines must grapple with we British don’t come across until year eleven. Of course, that Chinese students excel in maths is widely known. The surprising thing is that standards are just as high in history. By the time Chinese students enter senior high school, with over three years of history behind them, they have a pretty good understanding of their own very long history, and so begin to study only world history. This takes in all kinds of topics, including such obscure things as the Chartist Movement. When my Chinese teacher brought up this subject, I was caught completely off guard! Many teachers stress that the requirement to study world history demonstrates how this generation of Chinese are more open-minded and have a better understanding of life outside China.

中国早就分别培养国家一流的运动员是出名的。同样,在徽县四中,擅长音乐的学生都聚集一个班。不过,还有几个班的名字,这个名字好多年前, 改革开放以前,是完全不适合 — 就是金徽班。这所学校的培优班都得到了这个白酒公司的赞助。金徽是一家当地的成功企业,其标志在徽县无处不在,即使学校也不例外。 从未有人想过这种赞助可能会对学生的身体有负面影响了。

China has long been known for separately training and educating the country’s top-class sportspeople. In Huixian those who are good at music are likewise put together in a single class. There are a few classes, however, whose name would some years ago, before the reform and opening of the 1980s, have been wholly inappropriate: the Jinhui Classes. This school’s high ability classes have all been sponsored by this rice wine company. Jinhui is a successful local enterprise whose logo can be found throughout Huixian, including within school. It had never crossed anybody’s mind that this kind of sponsorship could have a negative influence on people’s health.


The reason why I mention these special classes is because which class you are in means quite a lot. Students generally stay in one classroom, having lessons with the same classmates. The class takes responsibility for keeping the classroom clean and tidy. Students rarely go and play on the playground: except for morning exercises, to clean and when coming and going, they don’t usually hang around outside. This is, however, by no means due to academic pressure alone: in China as in many foreign countries, everyone goes home for a nap at lunchtime. Moreover, despite the masses of homework, it would be hard to say that teachers are particularly strict. After all, half the teachers themselves went to the school! Students often wander casually into the English office to ask teachers for help or to hand in work. Teachers willingly admit that the frequent exams bring with them a great deal of pressure. Nonetheless, this being junior and not senior high school, students still manage to find a bit of time to take part in extra-curricular activities, to chat and to enjoy their teenage years.

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