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November 03, 2011

Fast Off the Mark in China

In the US we have countdown timers on green lights to tell us how long we have left to get across the street. In China the red lights count down so you can be fast off the mark when the light turns. This particular speed up technique isn't very effective because you can't count on the cross traffic stopping when their light turns red; busses and cars anywhere near the intersection just lean on their horns and keep going.

Much more frightening from a competitive PoV is the school day. From elementary school on, kids start at 7:30 AM; there's a break from 12:30 PM to 2:00; then classes continue until 5:30. Wow!

On the lunch break kids can go home if there is someone there to feed them. If both parents work, the children can either eat in school (where they don't like the food) and be supervised by teachers for a siesta or go to nearby private mini-daycare apartments. If hard working parents aren't going to be home at 5:30, the kids go to private places where they get homework help.

Class size averages around 70. Chinese parents would like it to be smaller but it is what it is. Apparently discipline is not a problem in these large classes. Teachers have and use authority.

Education is free through middle school although our sources on a recent trip to China told us that "contributions" are required to get into the best public schools; there are also private schools. Parents are expected to pay for high school and college. However, only those who have done well through middle school stay on an academic track; the others usually go to a trade school after middle school. About 50% of high school graduates go on to college, up from 5% a generation ago. College campuses, obviously, are growing enormously and moving to the suburbs to find expansion room.

The very limited number of Chinese we talked to still consider American universities to be the best in the world and want their children to have the option of coming here. I hope they still feel that way a generation from now. They're not going to wait for us at the traffic light or anywhere else.


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