Chinese students are renowned for winning every year's IMC, for achieving the top grades in schools in North America and Europe. However, I also want to tell the stories of a group of people that is easily forgotten: the pupils who do poorly.
Readers of my previous post will have known that I am Chinese and have attended several schools both in England and China. In this post, I wish to tell the stories of several of my good friends in China, who are either looked down upon or ignored altogether by their teachers and sometimes the classmates.
They represent a large portion of China's pupils, yet do not have many opportunites to speak out about their opinions.
1. Qu Shuo
She is one of my best friends, who welcomed me warmly on my first day in the secondary school where I didn't know anyone, generously lending me all her notes and textbooks and spending entire break times on explaining materials I didn't understand.
I took her to be an example of academic excellence, as she studied and worked diligently. However, after two exams it soon became apparent that she just could not perform well enough in tests.
Some teachers would call her into their offices and lecture on her suspected "laziness" from a moral high ground. They never offered to tutor her, or at least offer some practical, specific advice that would be suited to her conditions. Due to her levels in academic subjects, they branded her with other terrible adjectives like "lazy", "disobedient" and "have no sense of responsibility".
2. Meng Yue
Meng Yue is also someone who welcomed me on my first day. She is quick, witty and rather sharp, yet lacks the ability to present her best side in exams due to stress and anxiety.
I recall once, after a major exam, both Meng Yue and I were called into the Physics Department. The teacher smiled warmly at me and congratulated me for achieving the highest score in the year group, before turning to my poor friend and letting out a string of cruel comments on her exam results. Indeed my friend did terribly, yet the comments were so nonsensical and irrational that they nearly reduced my friend to tears. After fully expressing her opinions, the teacher stated that she would call my friend's mother to inform her of her daughter's "unacceptable " behaviour--one of Meng Yue's worst fears.
Just three months before the unfortunate incident I had stood in the exact same spot in the room, head down and simply swallowing the nonsensical claims. Yet the attitude changed radically, for no other reason but the improvements in my levels.
I agree that teachers will inevitably have their favourite pupils, yet disapproving of a pupil's moral characters simply due to a number written on the answer sheet is not only unacceptable, it is horrifying.
The teacher later told me that she didn't mean the things she said. Yet her motivation--and what many others believe to be undeniable truth--is that academic performance is everything, and that nothing else matters.
It is absurd, yet enhanced by the Chinese examination systems. With every student aiming for a few top places, authorities are forced to raise the standards and introduce new forms of testing knowledge, which simply popularised rote learning. The pupils whose specialities are not this can feel very miserable indeed.
They are virtually barred from student union elections. They feel ashamed to be engaged in discussions. As we focus the spotlight on the glamorous, how many of us really care about these people?
While I was in England we had quite a number of people who failed academically, yet this shortcoming did not stop them from being accepted by everyone else as humorous, talented, determined, or possessing even more important virtues. Judging by intelligence is ridiculous, and encouraged by Chinese schools.
When I asked Meng Yue how she felt, she replied, "nothing, just numb." I could think of nothing to comfort her.