Friday, February 27, 2009

Educating the Masses

I have been working the past three weeks substitute teaching English to primary school kids. It’s been a lot of fun. The classes have a Chinese English teacher four days a week and a native speaker for one . I used music a lot. They liked the songs and I tried to make it an educational as well as fun event. All those years of watching “Sesame Street” finally paid off.
Schools here are structured very differently. First of all, the days are a lot longer. The classes start around 7:30. Lunch is 11:30 to about 2:30 when the kids go home for lunch and a nap. Then back at it until around 6 or 6:30. Homework until 10:30 or 11:00 is normal.
Elementary classes keep the same room, but have a different teacher for each subject. Everything is test based, so the kids who test better are put into the same class, which can have fewer students. The bad testers end up in the same place, too only with a lot more of each other. I have a couple of fifth grade classes back to back, one is the “smart” one, the other is the crowded one. The “smart” kids know more English and learn more quickly. The others take more time, but I find that they are well behaved and give it as much effort as the others.
If I were so inclined, I could smack the bad kids. I don’t, but it’s nice to know that if a 50 kid class wanted to try to lynch me I could defend myself without having to worry about getting a lawyer.
Between each class the kids have 10 minutes to spazz out which they do in good form, but generally they settle down pretty quickly when the bell rings. Somebody probably had to do some whumping along the way to get them quiet in such good form.
Anyway, I there are some “smart” kid classes with about 30 kids, and a first grade class with 56 kids. The big class is in a smaller school that only has one class per grade. Oh noes! Smart kids and dummies together! Those classes work just fine.
When you are dealing with a class that large, it’s a bit like herding cats, but I’m loud, and a song usually gets their attentions. There is my assistant, also who has a lovely drill sergeant way about her.
The education system here manages to produce a more literate society than ours. I doubt they graduate kids who can’t read. They also excel in math and sciences. On the downside, it seems they pile a lot of make work on the kids, so they have little time to be kids. A Chinese friend of mine and I had a long talk about the education system here. He felt that where they are weakest is in encouraging creativity and thinking outside the box. I see a lack of time for pursuing outside activities, or even a chance to work on an academic area that they may wish to focus on more.
On the plus side they come out with a great work ethic and discipline. And teens have absolutely no time to really get in trouble, or pregnant.

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