Chinese kids risk death to get to school

Children climb a cliff on bamboo ladders twice a month to get to their mountaintop home in southwest China from their school in the valley.

Fifteen Chinese children, ages 6 to 15, risk their lives to get to school, reports USA Today. They use bamboo ladders to climb down a cliff to get to boarding school in the valley. Twice a month, they climb up the cliff — a 90-minute trek — to spend a few days at home.

Photos by Beijing News photographer Chen Jie, went viral on Chinese media. “If you have any kind of accident, you will fall straight into the abyss,” Chen told the Guardian. Now, authorities are considering building a steel staircase.

Api Jiti,  head of the farming community, told Beijing News “seven or eight” people have died during the climb.

There are 17 vine ladders on the 800-metre-high way home, but the most dangerous part is a path on the cliff without a vine ladder. The most dangerous part of the climb is a path on the cliff without a ladder. Photo: Feature China/Barcroft Images

Teaching ‘manhood’ at school

Against a backdrop of role models, Ernest Jenkins III teaches a class at Oakland High School called “Mastering Our Cultural Identity: African American Male Image.” Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Hoping to lift achievement for black male students, Oakland (California) schools have hired black male teachers to teach African-American history and culture in what’s called the Manhood Development Project, reports Patricia Leigh Brown in the New York Times.

“The No. 1 strategy to reduce discipline issues is engaged instruction,”  says Christopher P. Chatmon, who runs the district’s Office of African American Male Achievement.

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few students in his Manhood Development class with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few Manhood Development students growing up with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Many students have grown up without a father or male role model. Students form strong relationships with teachers and the program also brings in black male professionals and college advisers.

Chatmon’s office compiles an honor roll of black students with a 3.0 average or better. Three years ago, only 16 percent were male. That’s risen to 25 percent.

China is looking for male teachers to teach manhood, reports Javier C. Hernnandez, also in the New York Times.

Lin Wei, 27, a male sixth-grade teacher in Fuzhou, tells stories about manly warlords and soldiers. “Men have special duties,” he said. “They have to be brave, protect women and take responsibility for wrongdoing.”

Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom.

In Zhengzhou, a city on the Yellow River, schools have asked boys to sign pledges to act like “real men.” In Shanghai, principals are trying boys-only classes with courses like martial arts, computer repair and physics.

The motto of West Point Boys, an all-male summer camp in Hangzhou, in eastern China, is: “We bring out the men in boys.”

When Mark Judge was hired as the only male teacher at a Catholic K-8 school, the boys were ecstatic, he writes on Acculturated.

. . . the boys literally formed a circle around me and started jumping up and down. There were requests to play football, questions about cars, inquiries into my favorite baseball player, light punches (from them) on my shoulder.

The U.S. should “encourage more men to become the kind of teachers our boys need,” he concludes.

U.S. team wins gold at Math Olympiad

Math Olympiad winners: (back row) Michael Kural, Yang Liu, Ryan Alweiss, Shyam Narayanan, (front row) Allen Liu and David Stoner.

A six-man U.S. team won the International Mathematical Olympiad for the first time since 1994, edging out China. There will not be a parade.

Over three decades, China has won the math Olympiad 19 times, notes the Los Angeles Times.

Team members must solve six problems that require algebra, geometry, number theory and combinators in 4 1/2-hour sessions over two days.

Here’s an example from last year:

Let n ? 2 be an integer. Consider an n x n chessboard consisting of n2 unit squares. A configuration of n rooks on this board is peaceful if every row and every column contains exactly one rook. Find the greatest positive integer k such that, for each peaceful configuration of n rooks, there is a k x k square which does not contain a rook on any of its k2 unit squares.

Although there were no girls on the U.S. squad, two girls ranked among the top 12 competitors in the United States, said Po-Shen Loh, the Carnegie Mellon professor who coached the team. (Nine of the 12 U.S. finalists were Asian-American.)

Ukraine, with three girls on the team, was the only gender-balanced squad in the Olympiad.

Few girls compete in the international competition, notes the FiveThirtyEight blog. In recent years,  the average number of girls per team has risen from 0.2 in the 1970s to 0.5 in the 2010s (so far).

Law tells parents to limit kids’ tech use

Taiwanese parents are required by law to limit their children’s use of technology to “reasonable” levels, reports Kabir Chibber on Quartz. What’s reasonable? The law doesn’t say. But it threatens to fine parents whose children become “physically or mentally” ill due to overuse of digital devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends a maximum of two hours a day of screen time for kids, found in a recent study that 8-year-olds in the U.S. spend an average of eight hours a day with some form of media—and many child-development psychologists urge more unstructured play time.

South Korea now regulates “online games and e-sports as if they were addictive substances,” writes Chibber.

Worried about addiction to online role-playing games, China limits online gamers to three hours of play at a time, reports BBC News. Games are set up to limit a game character’s ability if the player exceeds the three-hour limit.

Inside a Chinese test-prep school

Students leave Maotanchang High at the end of a 16 1/2-hour day. (Photo: Sim Chi Yin/VII, New York Times)

Rural Chinese parents pay for their children to attend high-pressure test-prep schools like Maotanchang High, reports the New York Times Magazine. Students must pass the gaokao test — the sole criterion for university admission — or face a life of manual  labor, like their parents.

Yang Wei starts his first class at 6:20 am and finishes his last class at 10:50 pm, writes Brook Larmer.  After taking the Sunday morning practice test, he gets three hours of freedom. He shares a tiny room with his mother, who quit her garment-factory job to support him in his final years.

. . . the pressure to start memorizing and regurgitating facts weighs on Chinese students from the moment they enter elementary school. Even at the liberal bilingual kindergarten my sons attended in Beijing, Chinese parents pushed their 5-year-olds to learn multiplication tables and proper Chinese and English syntax, lest their children fall behind their peers in first grade. “To be honest,” one of my Chinese friends, a new mother, told me, “the gaokao race really begins at birth.”

Unemployment and underemployment is rising among new college graduates in China. Yet, “the competition is fiercer than ever,” says Jiang Xueqin, an assistant vice principal at Tsinghua University High School. “And rural students are getting left behind.”

Perhaps nobody on campus is more motivated — and exhausted — than Maotanchang’s 500 teachers, whose jobs hinge on their students’ success. Base salaries for teachers are two to three times as high as China’s normal public-­school wages, and bonuses can easily double their incomes. For each student who gets into a first-tier university, the six-member teacher teams (a head teacher and five subject teachers) share a $500 reward.

. . . The head teachers’ schedules are so grueling — 17-hour days monitoring classes of 100 to 170 students — that the school has decreed that only young, single men can fill the job. The competition to hang onto these spots is intense. Charts posted on the walls of the faculty room rank classes by cumulative test scores from week to week. Teachers whose classes finish in last place at year’s end can expect to be fired.

On campus, decorative rocks bear the school’s motto: “We don’t compete with intelligence but with hard work!”

Yang was “ecstatic” to qualify for a second-tier regional university. His childhood friend, Cao, failed the gaokao. Days later, Cao “left their home village to search for migrant work in China’s glittering coastal cities,” writes Larmer. “He would end up on a construction site, just like his father.”

Those who can afford it try to go to high school and/or college in the U.S.

Asians ace GMAT math

Americans can’t compete in math with Indian and Chinese business school applicants, reports the Wall Street Journal.  Asian students do so well on the quantitative portion of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) that admissions officers are looking for ways to admit more U.S. applicants.


Forty-four percent of GMAT takers are Asian, compared to 22 percent a decade ago. U.S. students, once the majority of test-takers, now comprise 36 percent of the whole.

A new benchmarking tool “allows admissions officers to compare applicants against their own cohort, filtering scores and percentile rankings by world region, country, gender and college grade-point average,” reports the Journal.

“I need to be able to show my scholarship committee, which includes faculty, that this person is in the top 5% of test takers in his region,” even though that individual might not rank highly against test takers world-wide, said Sara Neher, assistant dean of M.B.A. admissions at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business,

South and East Asian students average 151 hours in test preparation, reports GMAC. U.S. students average 64 hours.

We’re not Chinese

Chinese “super-schools” are a myth, writes Diane Ravitch in a New York Times review of Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, President Obama and legislators want to be like the Chinese, Ravitch writes.

Why should we be number twenty-nine in the world in mathematics when Shanghai is number one? Why are our scores below those of Estonia, Poland, Ireland, and so many other nations? Duncan was sure that the scores on international tests were proof that we were falling behind the rest of the world and that they predicted economic disaster for the United States. What Duncan could not admit was that, after a dozen years, the Bush–Obama strategy of testing and punishing teachers and schools had failed.

China can’t maintain its economic growth without innovation, argues Zhao. That won’t “unless it abandons its test-based education system, now controlled by gaokao, the all-important college entrance exams.”

Zhao “does a wonderful job of challenging the lazy nostrums peddled by those suffused with China envy,” writes Rick Hess.

The Chinese education system is “an effective machine to instill what the government wants students to learn,” Zhao writes. Students excel because of “families’ high expectations” and students’ “hard work and diligence.”

Chinese immigrant workers’ children study in Shanghai. Photo: Nir Elias / Reuters / Corbis

It’s true that the U.S. has been a world leader despite mediocre scores on international tests, writes Neerav Kingsland on relinquishment. And “rote learning and high-pressure cultures” are nothing to emulate. However, Ravitch presents no evidence that testing reduces innovation and creativity, he writes.

If China isn’t innovative, is it the testing? “It’s more plausible that China’s rote learning and testing regimes are manifestations of their culture,” writes Kingsland.

While Ravitch argues against top-down reforms, she thinks her vision of schooling “will be good for everyone,” he writes. Ravitch and Zhao call for:

schools where students produce books, videos, and art, where they are encouraged to explore and experiment … the individual strengths of every student are developed, not under pressure, but by their intrinsic motivation … schools where the highest value is creativity, where students are encouraged to be … confident, curious, and creative.

Not every family sees creativity as the highest value, responds Kingsland. While innovation, creativity, originality and invention are “core values of our nation,” so is liberty.

“Educators should be able to develop . . . different types of schools that meet the different needs of the millions of children in our country,” he concludes. Some schools will have creativity as the highest value. Others may not.

Immersed in Mandarin

A Mandarin immersion charter school is proving popular in Minneapolis, reports the New York Times.

Yinghua Academy teaches all academic subjects in Chinese through fourth grade before moving to a half-English model for grades five to eight. That creates cultural understanding and “real bilingualism,” says Luyi Lien, the academic director.

The academic director leads Chinese-style morning calisthenics. Photo: Jane Peterson

“We bring together both East and West traditions,” says Lien, who tries to balance Eastern discipline with Western fun.

Just ahead of snack time in kindergarten, the teacher, who speaks only in Mandarin, thrusts an orange plastic disk in the air and 28 little hands shoot up. She points to one girl who answers correctly — “chengse” — before dashing to the nearby sink to wash her hands. In just minutes, all the students have identified a color and are happily tearing open their snacks. One 5-year-old asks, “Can you open this?” The teacher replies, “bangmang dakai?” On cue, the child repeats and then says, “xie xie” — thank you.

Yinghua, which was started in 2006, has ranked within the top 15 percent of all Minnesota public schools for the past three years on multiple measures.

Parents who choose immersion tend to be well-educated and committed to their children’s education. Forty-seven percent of students are Asian-American and 46 percent white.

Math results, which are particularly strong, are partly attributed to the Singapore Math curriculum and its eight-step approach to word problems, as well as the Chinese-educated teachers who move through material more quickly than their American peers.

Mathematical terms in Mandarin are also clearer. The word for “triangle,” for instance, “sanjiaoxing,” means three-sided. And when counting to 100, the Chinese use only 10 numbers to build all others; 71, for instance, is written 7-10-1.

China’s Ministry of Education pays for two instructors at the school as part of a campaign to support the teaching of Mandarin and Chinese culture.

Zhao: Don’t follow the dragon

The U.S. shouldn’t try to “catch up” with China, argues Yong Zhao in  Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

 China’s test-obsessed, authoritarian schools aren’t a model, says Zhao, who was raised in China and is now a University of Oregon education professor.

Shanghai students ranked at the top in the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, test twice in a row.

But the Chinese system “ignores children’s uniqueness, interests and passion, which results in homogenization,” Zhao tells the New York Times. “It forces them to spend almost all the time preparing for tests, leaving little time for social and physical activities.”

U.S. schools are following China’s example by becoming “more centralized, standardized and test-driven,” says Zhao.

Finnish schools “let down” two-thirds of students, according to Maarit Korhonen, a primary teacher. Those who aren’t academically minded and don’t do well on exams are “thrown away,” writes Korhonen in Herää, Koulu! (Wake Up, School!) There’s little to challenge the talented, she adds.

Finland’s top PISA scores have led to complacency, charges Korhonen.

Asian parents pay for ‘shadow’ education

“Shadow education” — not schools — is responsible for students acing international exams in Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore, writes Manabu Watanbe. Parents supplement their children’s schooling by paying for tutors, cram schools or distance learning, according to Watanbe.

Maybe it’s not the shadow schools either. It’s the parents who care so much about their children’s education.