BBC Solent interview on ‘Are our kids tough enough – Chinese School’ Episode 1 (5 August 2015)

BBC Solent interview on ‘Are our kids tough enough – Chinese School’ Episode 1 (5 August 2015)

I spoke to Julian Clegg this morning about the Chinese School experiment being run in a Hampshire school where five Chinese teachers have taken on the task of teaching 50 Year 9 pupils. It shows the difference between these and other Year 9 pupils who have been taught by British teachers. Although the statistics show that Chinese pupils are outperforming their English counterparts academically, we can observe from this first episode that there is a distinct cultural difference between the two countries that impacts on how children are taught.

A transcript of my interview is below (starting at 1:10)

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JC: It was on last night, and if you didn’t catch it, what would you think if you were told that from tomorrow your youngsters would begin school at 7 am, have 12 hour days, with two meal breaks and clean their own classroom? That’s exactly what happened to 50 Year 9 students at a Hampshire Secondary school for this new documentary that aired last night. It’s part 1 of 3 parts, by the way. It’s ‘Are our kids tough enough – Chinese School’. It’s Bohunt School in Liphook, by the way. So, if you are living there or you are one of the youngers, you will know all about it. Let’s get some thoughts on this. Joining me now is Dr Stephen Curran from AE Tuition, where he tutors students from across the South. So, what did you think? My only criticism is that it is going to turn into a debate about the teachers and not about the pupils. 

SC: Yes, I think they chose to put these teachers with Year 9 students, which would obviously be quite entertaining in that those children are often the most challenging children in a secondary school because, obviously, they are going through puberty. Many changes are happening. They don’t want to be embarrassed. They find change quite difficult and it takes quite a long time to establish trust between those students. These teachers were there just for 4 weeks. Now how do you build up a relationship, a meaningful one?

JC: Comparing us with China. Hours in class per day: in the UK 5 and a 1/2 hours; in Shanghai 9.8 hours. Start of the school day: 7.30 in China; 9 o’clock in the UK. Hours of homework per week age 15: 4.9 hours in the UK; wait for this, 13.8 hours in China. Days at school per year: in the UK 153; in China 190. Spending on school pupils: just short of 60,000 in the UK; just short of 30,000 in China. And so it goes on. The question is, does it make a difference? 

SC: Well, I think the expectations are very different. It’s a different culture. We can learn a great deal, I believe, from these more traditional approaches. To some extent, I think people in the UK see education as a right. I think that was something that came across in the programme and Chinese people see it as a privilege. I think our students, perhaps, don’t understand the value of education, often, until later. I mean, some of them did, when they were talking about their futures, but many of them, perhaps, felt as though they were cushioned in the society and wouldn’t really feel under the kind of pressures that Chinese students wouldn’t feel under. 

JC: Two things that crossed my mind while I was watching. Two moments. One was the Chinese teacher explaining trigonometry where she stood at the front of the class and basically put lots of things on the whiteboard very quickly and everyone was writing it down. It was almost by rote. Then they met up with one of their maths teachers ‘off piste’ so to speak, who had just come back into the school to do something. Then he started to explain, you know, Sine over Hypotenuse etcetera and then they got it. That is quite a fundamental part of the differences maybe between Chinese versus British teaching, isn’t it?

SC: Yes. I think a lot of it is, to some extent, stylistic. We have been affected by Progressive Methodologies in Britian. Many of those methodologies are very useful. I think, in the end, even the Chinese teachers were forced to try and work in groups with them, to try and understand the children more and to build relationships. So, I think Traditional Methodologies are good, it needs to be balanced with other kinds of methodologies. I’m a great believer that if you put the fundamentals in at Primary School, and that’s where the problems really occur in Britain, more than in the Secondary Schools, actually. So, I would be very interested to see what they do in Primary Schools and how that would affect Primary Schools [here].

JC: That’s for the next series, maybe. And the other thing just to mention. PE, where basically PE counts as part of your exam, so you have to do PE, and this extraordinary scene where they all have to run around, whatever pitch it is, within 3.27 minutes, and of course there’s half the pupils can’t pull it off. There’s one lad in tears, who’s good at science, but can’t run. Have the Chinese got a good idea there or is it a bad idea? 

SC: Well, I think the taking out of all competitive elements from school is bad. But, to make it solely a competition would be, in my opinion, wrong. It’s interesting that that particular lad, later on exceeded and was the only one who could solve a puzzle really quickly. The other teachers, the British teachers, had to make the point that he, in a sense, had other gifts. 

JC: Well, that’s part 1 of 3. I’m sure we will be talking about it more next week and the week after. Well done to everyone at Bohunt School who got involved and look, Steve, thanks for coming on the show today. Dr Steve Curran on BBC Solent.