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Schooling for children in Harbin (and China in general)


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here is an in-depth analysis of Chinese education 





pages 159-160:




Nevertheless, during the Song dynasty, there were learning centers where education was not orientated towards career mobility, but rather, the values of Neo-Confucian self- cultivation. “Academies had developed during the Song times as centers of learning, intellectual discourse, and contemplation, preferably situated in secluded natural settings. The ideal of learning as an end in itself remained and continued to be pursued.”434 These academies – although worthy of mention due to their differing educational goals from the examination orientated continuum – did not dominate the formal educational landscape in later periods. John Caffee, in his seminal work on education in the Song period The Thorny Gates of Learning in Sung China (1995), provides more detail: 


In the course of the Southern Sung [song], although informal academies remained common, many others took a form which was to become characteristic of Ming academies, with income producing endowments, salaried staffs ... lecture halls, dormitories and kitchens. In this they were much like government schools. Where they differed was in their educational program: rejecting in large part preparation for the examinations, they advocated instead Neo- Confucian self-cultivation.435 


By the end of the twelfth century, these academies openly voiced their opposition to examination based schooling and became quite a political force. This was eventually neutralized in the thirteenth century by being co-opted by the government.436 As Caffee cites, “‘an unbending moral integrity and idealism’ which approached ‘orthodox intellectual dissent [against examinations] ... only became a habitual commitment during the Sung period’”437Despite this relatively strong counter-force in educational philosophy, the system of examination-based learning expanded considerably during the Song, mainly due to greater economic affluence and the advent of printing and publishing. It is during this time that a ruling class of “literati-bureaucrats” was consolidated and became a dominating political force in the subsequent dynasties.438 It was in the Ming dynasty that the role of scholar-official became fully institutionalized.

The hierarchical structure of the examinations achieved final form during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and remained basically unchanged for some 500 years of Ming and Qing (or Manchu; 1644-1911) rule. The system was centralized under the authority of the Board of Rites, with the emperor himself presiding at the highest level. The examinations were empirewide in scope, with quotas drawn to ensure an adequate supply and distribution of educated men, albeit also in relation to the locality’s existing cultural level, throughout the country.439 



While standardized testing came out of Chinese culture, it would be wrong to equate Chinese education with standardized testing. Also, you can't separate "traditional" Chinese education from "foreign" influence, e.g. Dewey. 

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I spent the last four years of my schooling in four difference countries. Admittedly they were all western school systems but they very different from each other.


I went from the Canadian school system with its more relaxed attitude but with good school buildings and equipment and excellent teaching to the Scottish system with older school buildings and not so well equipped classrooms but a much stricter regime with longer school hours.


Then I went to USA and found myself back to a system similar to Canada and then lastly back to England which was similar to Scotland. I went to the local school, in sixth forum, and couldn't get on with the strict way of doing things, so I was "transferred" to the local High School. This was more like school in Canada and i went on to do some O levels.


My point is that kids adapt, children are more resilient than people give them credit for.


I enjoyed all the different schools, I found it interesting and fun. I enjoyed the challenge of the new ways of doing things and even though the languages were all English the change from Canada to Dundee, Scotland was almost like a new language. In Canada we also had to learn French. So there were some language changes to cope with, but it was ok.


Also if you put them in a Chinese school and they really aren't managing to keep up for what ever reason, presumably you can take them out and put them in an international school.


I say give them this unique opportunity to experience a new way of learning and to really get to grips with the Chinese language. I would have jumped at a chance to do something like this when I was younger.


Also ask the kids, I know they are young but you don't have do what they say, just get an idea how they feel about it. Talk to them about before they go, so they don't go unprepared, you say they are able to speak Mandarin so that is the biggest hurdle out of the way.


I think it might be the best thing you can do for them, not because it will give them a better or more education but because they will get to have a great life experience.


It would be interesting to hear from anyone who maybe went to chinese school as a youngster, what did they gain/lose?



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Compared to Canada England was strict but Scotland was stricter.


In England and Scotland I had to wear a uniform, in Canada I stopped having to wear a uniform in secondary school (High School) but the uniform in Canada was just a black tunic and white blouse, it was nothing compared to my Scottish uniform which had to be bought from a shop specialising in this sort of thing.


You went there and told them what school you went to, Morgan Academy, and what year you where in. You then got measured, and handed a pile of clothes, Blazers, blouses, skirts, socks, and yes dark blue navy bloomers, not quite like Victorian ones but never the less very unattractive, these you had to wear over your own knickers!


We got gym clothes and plimsolls, school badges to sew on to the blazer and the wonderful school tie. I had to learn to tie a tie the correct way, no big knots no sloppy knots and nothing that showed any individualism. The only thing of my own were my shoes but woo betide you if they weren't black and sensible. :)


Teachers ruled with an wooden ruler, you could still get corporeal punishment the first year or so I went there but then it was stopped, mostly. You behaved or got in to serious trouble, no namby pamby lines to write out, you had to clean, maybe the desks, or the lab glass wear etc.


In Canada you didn't get more than lines or detention, didn't seem too terrible.


in USA you didn't get much at all, you really had to do something big to get noticed and then you would just get suspended and hey at 14 years old a day or 2 off school, who called that a punishment?


As to the teaching the best I thought was in Canada, I was able to take any course i wanted, when I came over to England I created a big ruckus because I wanted to continue with my Technical Drawing classes but the school had never had in 100 years a girl do technical Drawing. the teacher didn't know how to cope with a girl in his class, but I did my technical drawing and enjoyed it.


But the teaching in Scotland would have, if I had stayed, gotten more in to me because of the discipline, but I probably wouldn't have been as happy.


I never regret all the changes and different places I went to school, after all it made me me :)




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dark blue navy bloomers, not quite like Victorian ones but never the less very unattractive, these you had to wear over your own knickers!



what the .........




I never regret all the changes and different places I went to school, after all it made me me  :)




this is true  :)  

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I had some schooling in Malaysia around the age of 6/7 years old. I knew no Bahasa Malay and being just a kid, just got stuck in. Perhaps people who fear cross cultural learning are the ones who have had difficult experiences as an adult rather than a child. They look at childhood as a traumatic experience rather than a learning experience. My take on it is why not let the child try the Chinese education. If it doesn't suit the child, there is still the option of taking the child out. Why reject something straight out of hand when there is an opportunity for a unique experience? I don't say it will be easy. However, you can't go through the whole of school life having an easy time and being wrapped up in wool. That wouldn't prepare a child for real life as an adult.

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Interesting discussion so far - I have pretty mixed feelings about the topic. I had a pretty diverse education growing up: (1) liberal, "nature" oriented Swiss schools till I was 8, (2) extremely strict (and, looking back, rather abusive) American Christian schooling till I was 14 [including 1 year in an all boy's high school], (3) liberal, hippie, new age high school for 2 years based off the philosophies of a German "play" philosopher (think Dewey but add some weirdness), (4) home schooling (5) 2 year community college in a poor, immigrant neighborhood (6) a large public university. 


I found all of the schools (besides (1), which I don't remember) to be rather flawed. The strict schooling seemed designed to construct little automatons who walked, talked, sat, wrote and lived the same way. Phobias of using the restroom or drinking water were developed thanks to bans on such things during the school day. Creativity was stifled with conformity leading to an A. Tests and quizzes were constant - a sure way to destroy the love of learning. On the other hand, the discipline was endlessly helpful when I went to my later schools where many students struggled to complete even basic homework assignments while I had been regularly taking 2-hour long standardized tests since I was 9, or where students were at a loss to find Afghanistan or South Korea on a map while I had been forced to memorize the entirety of the world map. 


The social science also seems to be mixed. While "play" is stressed for its helpfulness in developing a healthy imagination and better mental well-being (seemingly what the Dutch/Finnish education people are getting at, and likely what your child will get more of if you send them to an international school), "grit" is similarly extolled as the central trait in a child's upbringing (and this is seemingly what both Shelley and Flick are proposing will be derived from the Chinese schools, thanks both to cultural differences and discipline). I'd love to point you towards the golden mean, but children and the modern education system construct rather larger obstacles than our Greek friend imagined when he proposed the mean as a target.


Regardless of which path you choose, perhaps a good method is to balance the other out. Too much discipline will produce a good bureaucrat, but a terrible artist. Too much playing may produce a Michelangelo, but the challenges of the modern capitalist system can quite quickly grind such talents to dust. Many of my Chinese friends complain about totally blocked off days with minutes planned weeks ahead, but I think many of my American friends could have benefited from a little bit of this. If school is strict, let the kid's imagination run wild in a field after class ends. If the school doesn't stress learning Chinese or encourage enough cultural immersion, try putting the child into after school classes. This doesn't have to be a math class - instruments or language also require discipline, and you may end up with a world famous 古筝 player. My mother put me into the Swiss school because of this - the local international school (despite its high price tag) didn't even teach French since it was catered to transient Americans/Brits. Plus, public school is cheaper even with after school activities!

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I'd love to point you towards the golden mean, but children and the modern education system construct rather larger obstacles than our Greek friend imagined when he proposed the mean as a target.


same point made in 大學

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So I work at an international school down in Guangzhou. I haven't heard of any international schools in Harbin and doing a quick search didn't turn anything up in the places I would likely find something. Doesn't mean there are not any international schools for foreign students, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were not. There may still be private schools with international curriculum or international divisions within public schools, but those tend towards being at the high school level.

I have some friends down here who have enrolled their kids in Chinese public schools. In all the cases I know about, at least one of the parent is a native-level Chinese speaker who is also literate in Chinese. Several have commented that it would be near impossible to support their kids in their education if this wasn't the case as people at the school wouldn't be able to communicate in English.


In some cases, the people have decided to have their kids attend local schools to give them a strong foundation in Chinese, including reading and writing. Several plan on switching their kids to international schools  or schools with English language curriculum when they get older. International schools in China tend to be expensive to very, very expensive. My schools' yearly tuition runs between USD20,000 (preK) to USD35,000 (high school). We are not the most expensive school in the city, but I'd say it's towards the high end. I used to work at an inexpensive international school in Shanghai and the annual fee there is 112,000 RMB per year.

A lot of my friends start to think about leaving China and returning to their home country when they decide they want English language education due to the costs unless they're on expat salary and benefits.

As someone who works at an international school (IB curriculum) at the high school level, I'd say if you want your kids to attend an English language university then making the switch to an English language curriculum by grade 6 or 7 would be a good idea. Most of the students who do it later than that start to have challenges with regard to their English language ability that impacts their performance in high school.


I read a good book on bringing up kids bilingually called, Be Bilingual - Practical Ideas for Multilingual Familiesby Annika Bourgogne

It discusses a lot of factors about raising kids bilingually and brings in contemporary linguistic research.


Anyway, I hope this is useful to you.



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After going through this thread I have to wonder, are the public local schools in Hong Kong having the same intense focus on exams, homework, memorization, etc?

You probably have to seperate out the different years as it can be variable. To enter a local HK elementary school that uses Chinese as a medium of instruction, the child would have needed to go a Chinese speaking kindergarten. The first three years of elementary school is not so intense. I hear that the level of Chinese is not as high as on the mainland. Parents in HK are keen to allow their children to undertake other activities such as music, sports and sometimes to very high levels (plus the tuition in maths, English and Chinese). I have heard of elementary schools which are quite intense, yet others are less so. So there is a spectrum of variation which makes it naive to label "all HK local public schools are xyz style". One thing for sure is that because Chinese is given emphasis, a child in elementary school will have more workload because of trying to learn two languages to fluency. I see international schools generally use English as the main language and Chinese (or other languages) have a second language status.

Looking around, I think in HK the intensity in schoolwork goes up at around 9 years old because parents are anxious about getting into a good HK secondary school. Some parents will start to change schools from this age onwards because their children (and parents) find it increasingly difficult to keep up with Chinese. Keep in mind these children are also mixing in Cantonese as well as Mandarin. Those with options start switching their children to international schools. Some parents like to keep it going as far as possible and it seems very much dependent on the parents previous school experiences - if you are familiar with a certain style of teaching, you would tend for your child to follow a similar pathway that you yourself understand. It's a bit fearful to step out into the unknown.

Once in secondary school, that's where the real difficulties lie. There is the intense focus on passing exams. One compounding factor is that the Universities in HK require all their local HK students to have passed Chinese (but strangely not the overseas educated ones as far as I am aware). So a local HK student who has passed with A grades but failed Chinese would not be able to get into a local HK university. That's a headache.

Sometimes you do get exceptions. My friend's daughter is a very good ballet dancer and attends a local HK secondary school. The teacher suggested that she allocate less time to dancing and more to studying. My friend (who is born and bred in HK) said there is no guarantee that decreasing dance time would have the desired effect of studying more - probably his daughter would spend more available time on YouTube, playing video games and on snapchat than on studying....

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Thank you very much, that was a really helpful post.  I will try and get a copy of that book. 




I am happy for the conversation to continue in this thread if you are.  I got most of the answers I was looking for and the thread has become rather interesting to follow!

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I am happy for the conversation to continue in this thread if you are.  I got most of the answers I was looking for and the thread has become rather interesting to follow!


That's ok then, I just didn't want you to feel I had derailed the original topic.


Yes it is interesting, all the different school systems and the outcome people have from them.

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My current school is similarly priced to places like HKIS and CIS in Hong Kong, though I haven't really looked at ESF schools which I know used to be heavily subsidized by the HK government (not sure if that's still the case). I haven't looked at the funding or costs at those places. There are things that probably cost a lot more for us in Mainland China. I know we pay a lot to get an internet connection to Hong Kong, which effectively serves as a very reliable VPN.


But in Mainland China good quality English language international schools are expensive.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Something else to think about beside the completely archaic method of teaching: rote memorization, is that teachers hit their students quite frequentl in the classroom. I saw this first hand when I was teaching English at a middle school in Jiamusi. The child would not sit still, kept getting up and walking around. I did my best to ignore him, and tried to move him back in the direction of his desk. All of a sudden their Chinese teachers marches into the room, grabs the kid by his uniform collar and slapped him across the face. She hit him so hard, you could hear it! and of course the big red welt on his face was very visible. Kid never made a sound, so I am guessing that he is used to this. I burst into tears, I was so upset by this. I am a former licensed social worker from America and I was horrified by this teachers treatment of the situation. I voiced my concerns to my employer who told me to mind my own business that this is China and if a teacher needs to beat a kid in class so be it!!! I am still bothered by this. If your kids are not fluent in Chinese or cannot sit still or commit and other infraction of classroom marshall law, how do you feel about your child being physically assaulted by their teacher?

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@Baby Charlie,


It sounds a little bit like you are implying that I am stupid enough or non-caring enough to be ok with my own child being physically assaulted by a teacher?  First of all, China is not the only place this happens.  It wasn't all that long ago that this sort of punishment was taken out of schools in the UK (late 1980s-2003 according to Wikipedia).  Secondly, your experience in one school in China doesn't necessarily reflect the situation in every school there, right?  If a teacher did that to my child, irrespective of what country it was, I wouldn't put up with it. 

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