Chinese vs. British schools -- a Chinese girl who went to both tells her story

Yupei Guo's picture
It is difficult to sum up my experience of schools in Britain. I am Chinese, my childhood years were spent in China and I didn't set foot in Britain until the age of 10.

In 2005 I quickly enrolled into the Fitzjohns state primary school in north London possible for year 6. Despite my obvious linguistic impediments at that time I still found the lessons a great bore due to their simplicity. The school was dominated by an "anti-achievement" culture, students and teachers alike. Lessons were extremely slow and inefficient, and it was a wonder that I, a person whon could barely communicate properly in English, achieved one of the highest English levels in our class.

I fled without a backward glance and went to Parliament Hill, a girl's secondary school, in September 2006. Dazzled by its flamboyant descriptions on the website, I didn't realise that in the next two years I only learnt about a third of what an average Chinese pupil would learn. I was top in every subject, yet the results I had when I returned to China in 2008 gave me a heavy blow.

I can never say whether the Chinese or the British is better. Chinese students are universally hardworking yet lack the basic abilities of imagination and creativity. One of my best friends thinks that any time spent on anything but studying is a waste of time. Another is a genius in physics (better than me, anyway) yet cannot put on the kettle or change a light bulb. I cringe when I think of the future of China, a rising country run by intelligent elites who can't cook or repair.

A saying in China goes, "Western schools have exams for their education, Chinese schools have education for their exams". It may be a little arbitrary, but recent trends show that it is true. We are losing the grip on the essence of learning, we are forgetting the purpose. Instead we memorize everything and spit them out in exams like regurgitators.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 08/12/2010 - 09:04

Fascinating post Yupei. My daughter is at Parliament Hill ( and all my children went to other local primary schools like Fitzjohns). One of the things they loved about the schools, as did many of the parents, was that they all embraced education in the widest sense, combining formal learning with music, sport, drama, social development. Personally I don't think they have lost anything along the way - the eldest two both went to good universities and have now graduated and all three are much more conscious of the need to achieve and have worked much harder than I ever did at school, in the so called 'golden age' of English education. Today my daughter ( now a sixth former) is joining her friends in a sit in to protest against the scrapping of the EMA and tuition fees. All have been on several of the recent demonstrations, so they are also politically aware with strong and diverse opinions. Would that be encouraged in China?

Melissa Benn's picture
Wed, 08/12/2010 - 11:19

Thanks Yupei. You throw a direct challenge down to both our local schools and Chinese schools simultaneously; rote learning, if I understand you correctly, to a very high standard versus a more relaxed, possibly less stretching system, but with other important qualities, that Fiona touches on in her post.

I would prefer to see the more informal and various quality of many local schools maintained but combined with more rigour and stretching of our childrens' intellects and imagination. One of the things I really admire about our own local school is its openness and friendliness; students are not drilled, or droned at and there's such a variety of students, the good teaching is to a tremendously high standard. Even so, there is much room for improvement in terms of engaging student's interests and developing their understanding. I don't want to see a return to a fifties or even Victorian style classroom, as Gove seems to do, but I would like to see far more expected of every child and more support put in place, to teachers, to help them do this. Rote learning without resources - in fact, in an age of cuts - is just going to be a disaster.

But as I say on another post, I think more room could be made for individual exploration and experiment , practicality and dare I say it, fun. Why can't students learn to read a recipe in French or Mandarin or ancient Greek for that matter and then cook it at school? There should be more hands on science experiments in school. School councils with real power help students to learn far more about citizenship than some dull lecture about politics.

That is the lesson from the original 'free schools', nothing like the free schools of today incidentally, that students learn through doing; when you are absorbed in a task, key principles are much easier to grasp and remember. As the OECD points out yesterday re the PISA results, those who read for enjoyment routinely get the best scores, even if it is reading from Facebook not Pope and Dryden.

Cynthia's picture
Sun, 12/12/2010 - 04:43

Yupei nice one.
Oh well you're actually a special sample you know. You have to admit that you are actually smarter than a lot of people, due to the unit of your parents =) so it's no doubt that you were number 1 while you are in Britain.(ahh,freaking social makes me write Britain instead of England >..<

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