China’s tro­phy kids

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWOCENTS - By Ka­trin Büchen­bacher

Yolanda is a typ­i­cal tro­phy kid. When she was three, she wrote 2,000 Chi­nese char­ac­ters, mem­o­rized 500 English words and was able to jump 108 times with her jump rope with­out trip­ping.

I call her a tro­phy kid be­cause her par­ents can proudly show her around like a tro­phy.

Par­ents brag­ging about their chil­dren’s ac­com­plish­ments are a phe­nom­e­non I have in­creas­ingly ob­served in China.

Now, Yolanda has grown into an even brighter teenager. In ad­di­tion to be­ing in an in­ter­na­tional school, her par­ents en­rolled her in an ex­pen­sive ex­tracur­ric­u­lar study pro­gram that pre­pares stu­dents to pass the entrance exam for top uni­ver­si­ties in the US.

Dur­ing the du­ra­tion of a week­end, I was a teacher for this pro­gram. I taught the chil­dren new English vo­cab­u­lary, fa­cil­i­tated de­bates to let them prac­tice their oral speak­ing skills, and coached them for the yearly tal­ent show hosted by the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The or­ga­nizer paid me an ex­or­bi­tant sum of money, and more im­por­tantly, the chil­dren and I had a great time.

But here’s the catch, I am not at all qual­i­fied to pre­pare Chi­nese kids for an Amer­i­can col­lege entrance exam. I am nei­ther a teacher nor a na­tive English speaker. To be very hon­est, it was the first time I had ever taught a class in my life.

I did a good job, prob­a­bly, but the point is I am not a pro­fes­sional.

No­body seemed to care. The or­ga­niz­ers gave me to­tal free­dom in the de­sign of the cur­ricu­lum, and even though two Chi­nese as­sis­tants at­tended my class, their pur­pose was not to help me with teach­ing but to doc­u­ment ev­ery­thing.

They took pic­tures of me point­ing at a flipchart, of me sit­ting down with the kids in a cir­cle and read­ing Dis­ney’s Zootopia, of me sit­ting through the en­tire six min­utes of “You Raise Me Up” per­formed by Yolanda (singing is prob­a­bly the only tal­ent this girl doesn’t have.)

“The par­ents love you!” the as­sis­tants as­sured me. Since the moms and dads never met me in per­son, I as­sumed they loved how I looked: a tall, young, white woman teach­ing their lit­tle em­per­ors. Now, that’s some­thing you can show your ac­quain­tances, your neigh­bors, and col­leagues at work.

I could not re­press the sus­pi­cion that the or­ga­ni­za­tion paid me to give the chil­dren’s par­ents face. English lan­guage teach­ing was of sec­ondary im­por­tance.

On Sun­day evening, I fi­nally met some moms, dads and grannies in per­son. I was sup­posed to in­form them about their child’s English lan­guage progress.

Yolanda’s mother ar­rived one hour af­ter all the oth­ers had al­ready left. The lit­tle girl ini­tially played with the as­sis­tant and me while wait­ing, but af­ter a while, she sat qui­etly on a chair, check­ing her phone ev­ery minute.

Her mom stormed in with a sheep­ish smile on her face. While I told her about Yolanda, she scrolled through pic­tures on her phone.

“Have you heard, mom? The teacher said I was a xueba (a good stu­dent)!” Yolanda said.

But her mom was busy show­ing me a pic­ture of Yolanda win­ning the last year’s tal­ent show. I ap­plauded, but in my heart, there was just one ques­tion: Do you care more about gain­ing face than your kid’s ed­u­ca­tion?

Il­lus­tra­tions: Luo Xuan/GT

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