Should the length of Chinese schooling be shortened?
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.