Chinese School: Reality TV disguised as a documentary?
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A kettle boils merrily at the back of the crowded classroom. Pens are put down; mugs are pulled out. 50 year nine students run riot as a Chinese teacher, apparently undeterred, zooms through trigonometry at breakneck speed to an audience of himself alone. Welcome to BBC2’s Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School, a scientifically and morally questionable ‘experiment’ at Bohunt School in Hampshire, one of the country’s top state schools, where five highly experienced Chinese teachers attempt to teach British kids using Chinese methods. Don’t be fooled, though. This is not a classroom, but a stage upon which two seemingly incompatible cultures are set to collide in an effort to find out why Chinese pupils are three years ahead of their British counterparts – and it brings out the worst in everyone. The Chinese teachers come from a pressure cooker education system powered by “authority, discipline and ruthless competition”. As a single child in China with all your family's dreams upon your shoulders, bettering yourself is not enough. Extra classes stop becoming ‘extra’ when everyone attends them – if you don’t go, you get left behind. The reality that pushes them is that “çŸ¥è¯†æ”¹å˜å‘½è¿”: knowledge changes one’s destiny, opening doors to a top university, a well-paid job and the status and power that money buys. However, what is ‘reality’ in China may not be so in UK. Chinese pupils, terrorised by test scores, rankings and incredible pressure from parents, have no choice but to “adjust themselves to society” and its brutal methods, the very opposite of the child-centred British education system which seeks to accommodate and adapt to the individual needs and methods of the pupil. The Chinese teachers are here as guests, absolutely committed to imparting knowledge and “representing the Chinese way of teaching”. To them, this really is an experiment. This is where the asymmetry lies. Bohunt teachers want their methods proven better, that repetition and regurgitation is not the way forward, though university students are likely to be grimacing when one pupil objects “I cannot write a whole paragraph and listen to her; it's literally impossible”. The troublemakers in the class want the adrenaline rush of terrorising a teacher on national television, while their parents look on with bemusement at the funny little foreigners who think they can do better. Everyone but the guests of the country see the Chinese School as a source of entertainment, an innovative Tuesday night reality show. “It’s about China, it’s about a nation,” Chinese science teacher, Miss Yang, croaks, voice almost gone from the day’s exertions.
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