29. Education with Chinese Characteristics

The other day’s class began as usual: with a 40-minute long student presentation. Not because that student didn’t know how to summarize ideas, but rather it was required that each student speak for 40 minutes at least.

The class is 3 hours in total, and each class has at least two students presenting. You can imagine how much work the professor needs to do. Or, in other words, not much. He comes, sits back and let us do his job. Most of the time. He also has a habit of interrupting and going on a long tangent about something almost completely irrelevant.

Which brings us to the beginning of my story. We went from decentralization (the presentation topic) to him defending China as a non-authoritarian state. I was not amused, especially when he nearly broke the blackboard banging on it with a fist and drawing vague diagrams that resembled nothing at all and only served to break an innocent chalk. There was no room to disagree with his absolutely-correct-definitely-can’t-be-wrong opinion.

It seems that it is not only the Chinese state that is authoritarian: its education system is as well. From professors randomly changing class times, purely for their own preference without any consideration of the students’ schedules to unprofessional methods of pedagogy and public scolding cases.

In this very same class we received an email from the course assistant with a list of people who were absent from the one class the professor decided to take attendance in. She threatened that if further absences were noted, it would reflect badly on the absentees’ final mark.

It’s all fine and dandy, except the fact that shaming these classmates in such a public format is extremely unprofessional. But that’s not even the core issue. One of the main reasons students are not attending the class is because the professor is absolutely not doing his job properly. It is the fact that I pay thousands of renminbi to the school, to this programme and to live in this city, in order to receive a high-quality education but end up with something as ridiculous as this. And on top of that from China’s reigning top university too!

I have never encountered a course where the students do the majority of lecturing and the teacher simply sits on his behind and enjoys the class as if he was a student. Don’t get me wrong, I love active discussion sessions and questions by students and I definitely don’t have a problem with doing presentations, but having to cover an entire class as if you are the teacher is something else altogether. I did not pay to have students explain to me the areas in which the professor is supposed to be an expert in.

There’s also the issue that for this entire semester, only four courses are offered to us. In the manual there are at least seven options, but because professors went on sabbaticals, didn’t feel like teaching the course they said they would offer this semester, or for some other personal reasons, the list dwindled to a pathetic four. And out of these four, about half are extremely dry and taught by professors with absolutely no clue how to engage a class.

Well alright. “But you are in China and at least learning Chinese and experiencing all that its history and culture has to offer!” Which brings me to the Chinese language courses offered by this program. There are only three to choose from: beginner, intermediate and advanced. With no room to maneuver in between. While Chinese-looking foreign students like me are quickly exempt from the language component without even being properly tested to see if our Chinese is up-to-par, foreign students are all categorized into one class or another even though some of their Chinese is way beyond the level of the advanced course. There is no differentiation between oral and reading capability, so students are stuck in a course which, if you are lucky, matches up to one component but not the other. Worse case scenario is that it doesn’t match any.

It seems they don’t understand the concept that we are not simply here to buy a diploma, we actually want to learn something in the process.

So for those of you considering an English-language programme in a Chinese university, really take into account the student experience and think it through before breaking your bank to get an education here.

Rant. Over.

This post includes contributions from my lovely American friend, who sprinkled over it her magical grammar dust and made it all the more pleasant to read. God bless her courageous soul for tackling my horrific grammatical crimes.

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One thought on “29. Education with Chinese Characteristics

  1. “You’re wrong! I know Economics, I know China, I know your country, I know his country, I know her country. You should be quiet! Do you know what is the definition of “quiet”? No! And do you know what is the definition of China? No!” “I perfectly understand China, China is three things: Political Economy + Transition + China! [while drawing a huge equation on the blackboard] Now you know China!” Jade you’re right, this course is both a nightmare and a tragicomedy.

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