Monday, August 22, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 学校

Today is the first day of school (xuéxiào, 学校) for kids here, so I thought I'd write a little of what I know about the kids (hái zi men, 孩子们) and schooling on this side of the world. Like everything else, it is quite different from the West.

Generally speaking here new momthers (māmā, 妈妈) stay in bed for one month after giving birth.  In fact, they are not supposed to do anything, even shower or read books.  After one month, they usually give their new baby (bǎo bǎo, 宝宝) over to the paternal grandparents (zǔ fù mǔ, 祖父母). Usually the baby lives (zhù zài, 住在) with the grandparents for the first few years of their life, even if they are in a different province from the parents, and the parents may visit as they have time. There are of course exceptions to this, but this is a widely accepted practice here.

At about 3 years old (sān suì, 三岁) kids begin a sort of preschool or kindergarten. This first step in formal schooling is usually about 9 hours a day. The toddler will usually still live with grandparents and/or parents and have the evenings free to spend with family (jiā rén, 家人). Usually, these schools are nearby, although they may commute an hour or so to attend a better school. Getting into a good school is a big deal here, even for preschool. Sometimes getting into a really good school requires special "gifts" that can cost thousands of dollars (USD). This may seem strange, but the preschool they attended could help determine what primary (elementary) schools the child may be allowed to attend and ultimately what colleges they are allowed to go to.

Next comes primary school. I think most children start at about age 6. Primary schools are also usually about 9 hours a day, but the children have a lot of homework (zuò yè, 作业) for the evenings also. These schools are still local and the children continue to live with the grandparents or other relatives.

High school dorm
(housing about 10 girls)
Children typically leave their family home for the first time, when they begin middle school. Most middle and high schools are boarding schools, and children live there, sometimes all year round. A lot of schools have a middle and high school on the same campus. Generally for these grades have classes morning (shàng wǔ, 上午), afternoon (xià wǔ, 下午), and evening (wǎn shàng, 晚上) during the week, and just morning and evening classes on weekends (yes, both Saturday and Sunday). They have about a two hour break for lunch and dinner, as well as many other shorter breaks throughout the day, but the children's time is quite scheduled.

Students in a classroom
(in Lanshan, Hunan)
The middle school and high school children attend is a really big deal, as there is often a limit of the number of students from each school that can get into a university (dà xué, 大学). The better the high school, the more students will be allowed to attend, and the better each students chance at getting into a good university. Geographic location also plays a big part in this since schools usually take more students from their area as well as from bigger cities. Because of this, students may go to middle or high school quite far from their parents or grandparents, if financially possible. They might travel home for holidays or stay with another relative who lives a little closer.
Boys playing with a friend at English Corner

English (yīng wén, 英文) plays a large role in getting into a good university. The university entrance exams (gāo kǎo, 高考) have large English sections, so students are often interested in improving their English through private schools or other means. Here, where there are a lot of foreigners, there are often "English corners" in public parks where people go at a certain time each week to practice speaking English. We all have fun going to these sometimes.

1 comment:

  1. Loved your post today. I just sent my 12 year old chinese/american daughter off to 6th grade a few days ago. I often wonder what her life in China is like for kids her age. We adopted her 11 years ago. Living with grandma and grandmpa? She might prefer it some days! But I would miss my buddy!


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