Should the length of Chi­nese school­ing be short­ened?

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Wang Han

Shi Bi, a mem­ber of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence and also an aca­demi­cian at the Chi­nese Academy of En­gi­neer­ing, pro­posed dur­ing this year’s two ses­sions that the length of school­ing in China should be short­ened.

He said that most of his PhD stu­dents will be around 30 years old by the time they grad­u­ate, which is too late for them to start ca­reers and a fam­ily. He thus sug­gested that the du­ra­tion be­tween pri­mary and high school should be re­duced by two years, and that mas­ter’s and PhD ed­u­ca­tion should also be short­ened by two years.

His pro­posal was re­ported in the me­dia and has re­sulted in heated on­line dis­cus­sions, with some ne­ti­zens con­cerned that such a dras­tic change in Chi­nese so­ci­ety could cause so­cial in­sta­bil­ity.

As some­one who re­cently com­pleted grad­u­ate school, I think Shi’s pro­posal is a great idea. Based on my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, longer school­ing doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean more learn­ing; in­stead, it usu­ally just gives stu­dents more time to drag out their ed­u­ca­tion.

I was ac­tu­ally the last grad­u­at­ing class in my home­town to re­ceive a five-year pri­mary school ed­u­ca­tion; Chi­nese pri­mary school stu­dents now at­tend for six years. And yet, there’s re­ally no difference be­tween what they are learn­ing and what my gen­er­a­tion learned.

For a mas­ter’s de­gree, on the Chi­nese main­land it usu­ally takes three years, but in most de­vel­oped na­tions such as the US, Ger­many, Aus­tralia and Ja­pan it only takes two. In the UK, where I went to grad school, it only takes one!

This is ex­actly why I had de­cided to study abroad in­stead of stay­ing in China. I’m not an aca­demic per­son – I didn’t want to spend my 20s sit­ting around in class­rooms when I could be out get­ting real-world ex­pe­ri­ence. So in­stead of spend­ing three years learn­ing the­o­ret­i­cal cour­ses and writ­ing a the­sis, I did it all in one.

From speak­ing to my for­mer un­der­grad class­mates who re­ceived their MA in China, most felt bored to tears hav­ing to stay an ex­tra two years on cam­pus. In fact, they no longer had to at­tend ac­tual classes; they just spent the year idling while writ­ing their dis­ser­ta­tions.

Ad­mit­tedly, many young adults would love to spend two years paid by their par­ents par­ty­ing, dat­ing or play­ing. But for those of us who are ea­ger to start our ca­reers, three years in a Chi­nese grad­u­ate school is un­rea­son­able.

When it comes down to it, based on nu­mer­ous sur­veys, it seems that a ma­jor­ity of Chi­nese univer­sity stu­dents go on to pro­fes­sions that were com­pletely dif­fer­ent from what they ma­jored in. Many Chi­nese young adults don’t know what their pas­sions and tal­ents are un­til join­ing the work­force, which is when they get hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence.

Some sci­ence stu­dents, for ex­am­ple, may re­al­ize they don’t want to be stuck in a lab all their life, while some en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents may come to re­al­ize that their true skill is sales. This is what ex­actly hap­pened to me. I stud­ied trans­la­tion and in­ter­pre­ta­tion as an un­der­grad and grad stu­dent, but it even­tu­ally dawned on me that be­ing an in­ter­preter just didn’t suit me.

Now I’m a jour­nal­ist, which is the last thing I ever ex­pected to be­come. Like­wise, my high school class­mate Ju­lia, who is cur­rently at­tend­ing a Chi­nese MA pro­gram for tra­di­tional jour­nal­ism, re­cently com­plained to me that her pro­gram is too old-fash­ioned. She be­lieves more in the im­por­tance of new me­dia, such as videos and livestream­ing, and yet she has to spend an­other year study­ing the­o­ries that will prob­a­bly be ob­so­lete by the time she en­ters the job market.

In our fast-chang­ing world, one’s abil­ity to learn new knowl­edge is far more im­por­tant than just get­ting some piece of pa­per from an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion. Spend­ing three years on cam­pus does not make a stu­dent any smarter or bet­ter at his/ her ma­jor. On the con­trary, let­ting stu­dents step into so­ci­ety at a younger age to gain some real-life knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence is ex­actly what China needs right now if we want to keep up with the de­vel­oped world. The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

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