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People's Daily Online>>Opinion

Chinese schools need to tune in and chill out

By Ellie Buchdahl  (

15:27, December 06, 2011

Chinese kids don't have time for sport. Chinese kids work too hard. Asian-American kids are being refused university places because they are stereotyped as "boring" and "overworked". In other words, they are labeled as typical Chinese kids.

Monday's cover story in China Daily included nightmarish stories of kids forced to be in the classroom almost solidly from 5:30 am until 9:30 pm. It was yet another variation on a theme that has characterized the past few weeks – China works its kids too hard.

I went to a private school in the UK. It couldn't have been more different from exam-factory China. At my school, hard work was the worst, most cardinal sin imaginable.

No matter whether you were reciting pi to 450 decimal places, playing Prokofiev's Petrushka with your left foot, running 10 miles in three and a half minutes, or copying the ceiling of the Sistine chapel onto the roof of the school hall, the last thing you wanted was to be seen to be making an effort. The rule was simple: long as you didn't give a toss, you would go far.

That went for teachers as well as students. My German lessons consisted of listening to The Magic Flute until the arias were stuck in our head more firmly than Wheatus' Teenage Dirtbag. When studying British post-colonial literature, my English teacher took us for a curry in East London, and my main memories of reading Hamlet are of shouting matches across the classroom about who was "more of a loser" – the ghost, the evil king, or Hamlet himself.

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