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SeekerOfPeace

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I’m investigating the Chinese education system at the moment and I would be interested what you have to say about it.

I teach postgraduates, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, adults, kids, the works.

But at the university I teach, I’ve had some puzzling experiences with what appears to be the Chinese education system.

First off, my boss told me I couldn’t fail my postgraduates, no matter what. Another teacher who also happens to teach postgraduates told me she would fail them if they never came to class. I was quite surprised and confused when my boss told me this (I still am).

The other thing I’m wondering about if also about failing. If my students fail the class, they can do another exam to make up for it. In other words, if one of my student gets 0 this term, next term they can have another exam. If they succeed this exam, they still pass the whole previous term. To me, since I don’t understand the rationale, that seems rather dubious. What’s quite confusing about this, is that the person responsible for the English department strongly encourages me to make this second easier. She talked through covered words, but my interpretation of what she was saying is that nobody should fail that second exam. Why is that?

I’m kind of concerned about the value of the diplomas the students end up with. Considering they apparently can’t fail no matter what, just which conclusions are we to draw from all this?

I’ve also caught a fair number of students cheating. I talk to them after class and their explanations are quite stunning. A girl told me she had no time to study my exam so she had to cheat.

Other students told me they didn’t study the new words because they don’t like to do that. It seemed a good reason to them not study something and consequently fail.

Other students failed the first exam and the second with very low scores. Most of them, boys. They have a book to read and new words to study but I know some of them never even touched the book once. It’s as if they’re not concerned by the slightest about their eminent failure. This happens back home too, but here, there’s seems to be an alarming amount of student who experience this.

The other Chinese teachers want to protect their students, as they put it, allowing them to cheat in exchange for the student’s cooperation in class. It seems so wrong to me. I’m most probably misunderstanding something here, because that seems so wrong.

Sometimes, students tell me: “You should do this, you will be more popular with the students.” My boss often praises my teaching skill but mostly say: “The students really like you.” I am sometimes under the impression that my job is to be popular rather than thoroughly teach them something. I smile when students tell me what to do to be more popular (well it happened once). I’m quite dumbfounded by this. Am I being paid to be popular?

Is it because the students are customers? Is that why we can’t fail them, even if they lack the knowledge requires to be considered qualified in their fields? Is it related to money?

By all means, share your thoughts.

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PArt 1

Hi SeekerofPeace,

You have hit on a large can of worms. Like most things in China this phenomenon depends on where you are located and specifics factors to the School, its leadership and the checks and balances given.

I have several view points on this-

1. English Teachers as Marketing Mascots

There are many schools (mostly middle schools and elementary schools) that see Foreign teachers as a source of marketing (like a mascot) or as person to give the kids some fun learning in the we (like a recess monitor or P.E. coach) My first year teaching at Suzhou Foreign Language school was like this. The second semester all 6 foreign teachers would have games and small talk in a grass courtyard at 4-5 , the time when most parents tour the school and can view us. The adminstration made all it's ideas of my teaching on the reports from the class monitor. I was forbidden from giving homework or tests of any kind. Meeting classes of 30 students for 50 minutes once a week there was not much class time anyway.

In an aside the English teachers appreciated me and the other teachers, coming to ask advice on lesson plans and usage issues.

Part 2 company buffer is small

2. The important test is the only important thing to a student.

The second experience Teaching University the English major students took my classes more seriously. In the sophomore year there is a TEM 4 oral test they must pass in order to graduate. This and support from the department made the students very motivated. They had homework, quizes and a Final exam. The final exam had to be written a month in advance to make you do it and give time to copy it.

This University though small was quite well known and was a feeder university into goverment Audit and accounting jobs. It's entrance exam pass score was quite high so the students were significantly better than other schools who regularly waived entrance requirements if students paid double tuition or had connections to the school leadership.

part 3

3. Generally score on the Test matters not so much how you get it. (this of course varies between schools and even courses) For example all university undergrads are mandate to take Politics (i.e. Marx and Maoist philosophy regurgitation class). The professors want student to be able to rewrite long quotes of Marx on the exams. The politics class took place in the same classroom as my English minor class. A classroom with perhaps 80 -100 desks. On about 10% of the back desks were Politics quotes written on to the desktop for use in the test. In politics classes which took attendance, (most) it was common to see people sleeping in the back row. Politics profs. Usually just lectured. Also the tests were usually repeated from year to year.

There was distinct difference between this and the ACCA auditing class which was to prepare students to take an international accounting exam. There there was strict attention and cheating was very uncommon.

part 4

4. Helping someone Cheat is seen as not so bad. In China student stay with the same class from kindagarten through 12th grade. In Unviersity they have the same classmates for their major subjects. Also many teachers often turn a blind eye to cheating (looking over the shoulder,) Some even leave the room for periods at a time. During an HSK I observed Koreans doing this and getting very mild tsk tsks. Homework is often busy work writing out sentences of the book. Memorizing formulas and scientific facts over doing actual lab work. Copying homework seemed easy in the middle school as every homework should be exactly the same.

If it is a writing assignment downloading from the internet is common. Even in my company training writing class for a customer service departmetn on a topic essay . When confront her excuse was " I can't believe the person I asked to do this for me just downloaded it from the internet".

Part 5

I have seen cheating/plagiarism all the way up to MBA classes in China. Much of it depends on the ability to get away with it, combined with what consequences there are to do it. The reason why you can't fail some might be if they fail out they can not come to that university again. But it might be just to keep face or because they think the piece of paper counts more than the actual learning.

My advice design essays and tests that are hard to plagiarize such as personal essay. Use tests and quizes to motivate students to do the work. And realize you're in Rome and you just have to get used to how the Romans do things even if you don't play along.

good luck,

Simon:)

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I’m kind of concerned about the value of the diplomas the students end up with. Considering they apparently can’t fail no matter what, just which conclusions are we to draw from all this?

Students almost never fail. Once you get into college, your basically set. I used to teach at a university that did actually fail people, partly because they were trying to set up a higher standard and partly because, since they offered dual degrees, they could get audited by foreign agencies. Anyway, my boss was a great guy, but he required us to have a ton of evidence when failing a student, because it almost always starts a bitter battle between the kid's parents and the university. I think most of the reluctance to fail comes from the fact that the administration doesn't want to be harassed for two weeks straight by parents.

With that in mind, you might as well realize that threats to fail students as a motivational tool will seem like very weak threats. So, I think you can always do more to embarass the students who aren't doing their work. Of course, you can't go over the line. But say something like, "I see Jack didn't do any homework today. Why is that Jack?" Do it publicly. Then praise the students who did well on homework, and praise Jack the next time he does something well, so that you don't end up alienating him for good.

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With that in mind, you might as well realize that threats to fail students as a motivational tool will seem like very weak threats. So, I think you can always do more to embarass the students who aren't doing their work. Of course, you can't go over the line. But say something like, "I see Jack didn't do any homework today. Why is that Jack?" Do it publicly. Then praise the students who did well on homework, and praise Jack the next time he does something well, so that you don't end up alienating him for good.

Yes, thankfully it's the minority who just don't care, I would say less than 5% so I'm not too worried.

The school asks me not to fail my students but I should have a broad difference between the best and the worst student, for the Education department my boss told me.

I only failed one student last term because he cheated in such an obvious way. But he succeeded in the backup exam, which I am asked to make as easy as possible so that nobody fails. It did bother me that he managed to cheat his way through, but there wasn't much I could do about it.

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I've seen a lot of teachers get bent out of shape about this in the past. Most of them are teachers new to China, and without any prior experience to the culture.

Cheating, plagiarizing, sleeping through class, not attending lectures, etc do bother us all, but it unfortunately seems to be a part of the educational culture for a good deal of university students.

My advice to anyone out there who finds themselves constantly griping about any of the above mentioned issues is to suck it up. You're not going to change the stance of the university, let alone a huge amount of the students.

Do what you can to reach as many of the students who are willing and able to listen and participate as possible; the students who take responsibility for their own learning. They attend class to learn, not for a piece of paper. Those students are the ones who matter the most, and will most likely remember your contributions for a time to come.

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Cheating, plagiarizing, sleeping through class, not attending lectures

I think it is best for the teacher's own psychological stability to assume that all of these behaviors will happen, and then come up with solutions to avoid them (ideally before the semester starts). You can't control your university's policies, or the cultural factors that contribute to permiting these behaviors, but you can control the atmosphere and set the rules of your own classroom.

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Do what you can to reach as many of the students who are willing and able to listen and participate as possible; the students who take responsibility for their own learning. They attend class to learn, not for a piece of paper.

I agree with this in principle, but how do you deal with the situation where cheaters score better than honest students who work hard?

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Are your postgraduates actually studying English, or are these compulsory English classes for non-English majors? If the latter, it's none too surprising - the Ministry of Education, or whoever, says all postgrads have to reach a certain level of English - regardless of the fact that they might be mathematic wizards or a world-class scholar of ancient Chinese history, they're not allowed to graduate until they've passed a test in a language they quite possibly don't care about. It's not too shocking of both students and the administration look for ways around it.

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I'm a bit surprised that people aren't happy about students not attending. As a student myself (technically post-grad, but only studying undergrad papers), I much prefer it if you don't come to class unless you want to be there. Thankfully, at actual lectures here at Vic, it's not compulsory to show up (to the best of my knowledge), and if you can pass the paper without attending, then that's great. I managed it for my 3rd year AI paper (god only knows how. Only got a C+, but even so...), and I imagine the rest of the class preferred that I wasn't there, rather than turning up, sitting at the front (out of habit, mostly), and being mildly distracting because I didn't want to be there.

Sleeping in class is pretty bad though - especially if you snore. You're better off not coming than coming and sleeping... That's kinda disrespectful to the teacher.

Also, agreed with Roddy - forcing study of various subjects is a great way to get loads of disinterested people making life hard for a teacher who's trying to be enthusiastic about something.

In the long run, constantly turning a blind eye to cheating will screw the University, as they'll be known as somewhere you can, essentially, pay money to get a degree. It also screws the students when they start work, as they'll find that they can't actually do what they said they could, and probably don't know how to learn what they need to know...

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Sleeping in class is pretty bad though - especially if you snore. You're better off not coming than coming and sleeping... That's kinda disrespectful to the teacher.
Personally, I would agree, but in China the attitude seems to be the other way around. It doesn't matter if you sleep or read a book or pass notes, as long as you show up. (Although snoring doesn't seem to be acceptable, since it makes noise.)

If I were very later for a two-hour class, I would wait for the second hour to start and sneak in during the break. But a teacher of mine in TW once told us to just come in, we would at least profit from the time we were there. (This same teacher didn't mind when a student was talking on his cellphone during class, while the teacher was also talking.)

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Quote:

Do what you can to reach as many of the students who are willing and able to listen and participate as possible; the students who take responsibility for their own learning. They attend class to learn, not for a piece of paper.

I agree with this in principle, but how do you deal with the situation where cheaters score better than honest students who work hard?

I think the important point here is that the students who want to study and learn walk out of the last day of a class with a lot more than the students who cheated and got high marks.

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