A Deadly Education System

Here is my translation of the blog post:-

"The 2009 college entrance examination ('gaokao') (高考) has come and gone. Like previous years, there have been frequent media reports about students attempting or committing suicide, induced by exam pressure and dissatisfactory exam results. This has been the driving force behind the production of a program series related to education reform.

In the process of production, a girl’s photo has shaken me to the core. Her innocent and robust smile is unforgettable. Because she was unable to handle the gaokao pressure, she chose to end her life. In her last hours, she wrote these words: 'Dear Papa Mama, I am so sorry. I know I should not be this selfish. But I have come to a dead end…. My results are so poor that my teachers have lost their confidence in me….. I cannot lose both my university dream and my self-respect at the same time… I have no idea what will become of me tomorrow.'

This incident happened three years ago. But similar tragedies have repeatedly been played ever since. What on earth was it that put such a lovely child in despair?

This reminds me of the story of 'Fan Jin Crowned in Laurels' (范進中舉), which is about Fan Jin becoming berserk after succeeding in a scholar exam. What about our own education system of today? Who should bear responsibility when gaokao students take their own lives? Like Yang Dongping (楊東平) said in the program: 'The traditional scholar exam system of the old times has been resurrected and strengthened in our era. The modern education system is basically one centered on passing exams and aimed at getting high marks – it runs in contradiction to the development of the human being.'

Thinking about ourselves in our primary and secondary school days, what really was the purpose of our schooling? I don’t know about your answers, but mine is very simple: it’s about getting good results at the final exams. What else was there? The most ultimate aim may be to get into a reputable university.

But for those kids whose purpose of learning is to pass exams in their primary and secondary school years, how are they going to adapt to university life? It is therefore not surprising that these youths who grew up in an exam culture appear to be especially disoriented and helpless in their university years. According to the results of a 2009 survey conducted by a certain website about the psychological health of university students, 'nearly 70 percent of students lack self-confidence; 50 percent are in a constant mental state of agitation, boredom and listlessness.'

There is no longer a need to debate whether the education system is a success or failure. Both the nation and families have spent enormous amounts of money and effort on education. But look what we have got in return – only kids who kill themselves because of gaokao and a bunch of diffident and lethargic university graduates. In all these years, we have lost the true spirit of education. Why do we educate? Do we educate for passing exams or do we teach about life? It is a simple question, but it has no easy answers.

I’ll borrow Tao Hengzhi 陶行知’s famous saying to end my essay: 'Education that does not use life as its thematic focus is a dead education. A school that does not put emphasis on life is a dead school. A book that is not about life is a dead book. People who wallow in dead education, dead schools and dead books are essentially dead people. Teachers become dead in teaching, and students become dead from learning.'"