One of the best ways to improve oneself is to learn from others’ experience. As someone working on primary school education, it is almost impossible to ignore China, a country that has over 99 million primary school students actively going to school every day. China has a high reputation for their education in fundamental knowledge, and in order for us to have a better understanding of how they got there, it is a good idea to start to learn about the day-to-day experiences of a typical Chinese primary school student.
The day always starts at 5:30 in the morning. After being woken up by his or her parents, a typical Chinese kid will have 30 minutes for brushing their teeth, washing their face, putting on the school uniform, and getting ready for school. Breakfast almost always happens on the way to school, with either milk and bread or soy milk and steamed dumplings.
One of the things that might surprise English people is the size of the classes in a typical primary school in China. For each class there are about 80 to 120 students. And there are about 30 classes in each grade. You heard me right. There is always a ‘head’ teacher who would be not only a subject teacher, but also a guardian that controls the whole class. For each subject in the curriculum there would be some specialized subject teachers while each one of them teaches 5 or 6 classes.
The morning session normally starts at 7:00, the time when head teachers walk into their classroom and collect homework. However, classrooms are often full at 6:30 because there are always some pupils who were too tired (or simply too lazy!) to do their homework the night before. Each class session goes on for about 45 minutes, with a 5-minute break for students to drink some water or go to the toilet (neither are allowed during class periods – Chinese schools are strict).
At the end of the second class session, it would be the time for PE exercise which includes every single student coming to the playground to do some dancing moves that are taught in PE classes. Something worth mentioning is that on every Monday, schools would have a ceremony to raise the national flag and there will always be a student representative (whoever gets the best score on the previous test) talking about how much he or she likes to study, his or her love to the school and the country in front of everyone.
Lunch is served at 11:35, and after lunch there will be an one hour break until the afternoon sessions begin at 1:30 P.M. Normally, there would be three to four more sessions in the afternoon, and the school would be finished at 4:50. During the semester every student may be asked to stay for a little bit longer to clean up the classroom, and the head teachers are not allowed to go home until every single student has left.
One particularly striking thing to notice is that snacks are generally not allowed in schools, which means that it is fairly frequent that you will see a student reaching into the desk drawer carefully and quickly grabbing something to chew. Chinese primary students get very good at eating sneakily, yet quickly! Typically, mobile phones and other types of equipment for entertainment are prohibited as well, and the “prohibited” means that if a teacher spots a student using the device, it is up to the teacher to collect it and keep it locked in the their office until the end of the semester.
Everything I mentioned above actually came from my personal experience. I was born in Beijing, China, and the primary school I went to was, and still is, one of the best in the country. During all these years of learning and traveling (I went to universities in the United States for 7 years and I’m now working in the U.K.), I have met people from all over the world and listened to so many stories that are worth sharing.
There are clearly great differences between Chinese and English education systems – some of which can be very striking – and I can’t wait to share more with all of you in the future.