A teacher in Brooklyn, New York, Michael Levy, wrote an interesting editorial today in the “Huffington Post” based on his experiences teaching in China and the United States. He describes how at this time of year at his high school in New York, students come in wearing all of these new sweatshirts and how everyone is talking about what colleges they got into. Yale. Dartmouth. Princeton. Duke. He dislikes that his students are reduced to names, to pieces of paper that say whether or not they were admitted to the college of their choice. He dislikes that college in the United States can be unaffordable to many families and he dislikes that SAT scores are correlated with income. But Levy also taught in the Guizhou Province in China and he says that the system in the United States is far better than the equivalent system in China.
In China, students are required to complete the Gaokao exam and this is the only factor in college admissions. A good score will determine the difference between gaining admission to a great Chinese university or a mediocre one. It will determine your university, your career, your life prospects. Writes Levy, “The Gaokao consists of hundreds of multiple choice questions in three required subjects (Chinese, Math, and English), and two additional subjects (choices include Communist Political Theory, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, History, and Geography). To prepare for the test, competitive students start studying in 7th grade. They spend six years of school focused SOLELY on the Gaokao. That’s six days a week, 12-16 hours a day, for six years, cramming information.
And for the real Tiger Mothers in China, not even this is enough hard work from their kids: some parents hook their teens up to oxygen tanks to improve their concentration; others spend tens-of-thousands of dollars on high-tech cheating methods (one of my students swore a classmate had a tiny transmitter surgically implanted in his ear so he could hear answers being read to him from a secret location) and each year there are hundreds of arrests of students, parents, and teachers who get caught in the act. And, of course, there are always heart-breaking spikes in suicide right before and after the test.”
Maybe this is one reason that Chinese students are applying to U.S. colleges in greater numbers each year. In fact, in the Ivy League, more international students hail from China than any other country. It doesn’t seem as though that’s going to change anytime soon.
Check out the “Huffington Post” editorial here.