Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Best and Brightest

Click the pix for larger picture.
I am back in the classrooms with a vengeance. My first series of lessons have been pronunciation of the "ARRRRR" sound, idioms, and a presentation on American high schools. The high school talk stresses the many differences in the two systems, and always gets me thinking about what each country could emulate from the other to improve what they have.
One of the things China does differently is to rank its schools. I teach at the #1 Middle School. It's called that because it is the top school, and has the top students in the region. Kids come from all over and live in the dorms here. Competition is fierce, and the workload is staggering. They are motivated by each other, family, teachers and the desire to do well in life. They are divided into classes according to test scores, and remain in that particular class for the school year. There are 39 classes of about 50-55 students in the sophomore class. Virtually all of their lessons are held in these classrooms. Here, the teacher is homeless, we go to the students. They develop a bond with their classmates, and each becomes its own unique community. Each student has their own desk, a place to study and keep their piles of books. The rooms soon become cluttered with plastic bins, since the desks aren't big enough to hold all these learning materials.
The advantage of this system is obvious. Your elite students are all together getting the best education they can get. They are all motivated, they compete, they help each other, and they have access to the best resources available. It's a giant nerdfest, without the disruptive lowlifes that can make life miserable for the brainy kids.
Having a set classroom creates a sense of community and family in what would otherwise be an isolating environment.
The schools here, even the elite ones don't come close to having the resources that American schools have. The classes are huge, they lack labs, computers, music, arts, and many of the creature comforts. The fun factor is very low. There are definite weaknesses in areas like creativity and self confidence, but they are very strong in math and the sciences, better than the US.
I read an interesting opinion piece last month that talked about the lack of motivation in too many American high school students, and how maybe the schools are not completely to blame.
Americans could do a much better job in encouraging bright students to do their best, and it might not be a bad idea to consider starting regional schools for its best and brightest kids. Too many are languishing.