Education in China: Brilliant but is it Unethical?

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It’s true that Shanghai, China, is long reputed to have the best education system in the world. Indeed, it’s known that on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, China has scored the highest in every sector for the past five years, including in Mathematics, Science and Reading, beating high-power western world countries such as the US, the UK and Australia. Indeed, it’s known that China was the first (and so far, only) country to have broken a 600 point score (Mathematics in 2009 and topping this in 2012), but why is this, and at what cost do the students suffer?


With compulsory education lasting only nine years (6-15) in comparison to the usual twelve year compulsory education system of the west, you’d think that the results of PISA’s tests would reflect this. In actuality the results are far from it and students are often reputed to be some of the most dedicated in the world, known to be legendary human calculators and masters of strategy and design. How does the student population manage such incredible feats of superhuman processing? Here’s the answer: It’s all in the culture.



Chinese parents have been long stereotyped as demanding straight A grades from their children, and in actuality this isn’t far off of the mark. A long line of historical academic pressure combined with an already large, and rapidly growing, population, has caused parents to put more and more pressure on their children as they progress through their education. It’s extremely common for students to begin private tuition as early as the age of five, before the compulsory years of school have even been entered, and on top of this, at the ages of around three, five and ten, extra activities are pushed into the child’s life. This frequently includes musical instruments such as the violin, flute and piano, as well as extra math classes, chess, go (a board game not too dissimilar to chess) and martial arts.


Now you’re probably thinking that this is a heck of a lot of pressure to be putting on a child at the age of three years old, and you’d definitely be right, but who can blame the parents? A population making up over a sixth of the entire world means that jobs are not so plentiful and the employer has an extremely wide selection to choose from. This means that competition is harsh and varied and if a parent wants their child to succeed in such a merciless economic environment, they need to be pushed even more harshly. Through a culture of respect, rivalries with relatives, dedication, hard-work and a ‘self-at-fault’ academic outlook, students are rapidly conditioned and fully readied to face an unforgiving world.



But those that can’t handle the mountain of work, the loneliness due to a lack of a social life and the high-expectations of parents combined with the inability to live to up to the legacies of relatives, are unable to bare it. Recently, academic institutions in China have had students sign waivers absolving the institution of all responsibility and blame should the student commit suicide. In the west this is unheard of and it’s no surprise, the relaxed state of education in the west and the far more sparse population means that a culture of pressure is not necessary. But in China, student suicides are already incredibly high and continue to grow as pressure mounts, with around a quarter of a million people every year committing suicide in the region and another two million attempts to. Students as young as ten years old have been known to give in to the pressure, including that of a ten year old boy who jumped to his death last year.


Despite the obvious and devastating impacts made on the minds of the youth, over all the system does work and brilliantly sharp minds come out of the Chinese education system. It’s through these sources that some of the world’s top industry leaders are found and some of the most talented musicians across the planet are formed. SeekTeachers has many positions in China and the land is full of some of the brightest and best students in the world.


[Programme for International Student Assessment: 2012 Results]

[ Pressure leaves millions of youth exposed to suicide risk]

[Daily Mail: Chinese boy commits suicide on teacher’s orders]