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Here in China and elsewhere around the northern hemisphere, schools are finishing up for the year and students are trying to take in the sum of their educational experiences. China’s school system has gotten a lot of press lately, but in this week’s Beijing Standard Time some of our staff discuss their own personal experiences in the belly of China’s massive educational machine. One of the most interesting tidbits that most Westerners wouldn’t know about is the heavy presence of the Communist Youth League (中国社会主义青年团, Zhōngguó Gòngchǎnzhǔyì Qīngniántuán) in schools, even at the primary school level. In fact, by the time they graduate high school, most students are Communist Youth League members and have learned in detail about the structure of the government, the party’s history and other bureaucratic wisdom. Such deep government and party involvement might seem odd to some Westerners, but it can’t be disputed that Chinese students tend to finish school with an excellent knowledge of their country and its history.
What you may not know, however, is a noticable change that often occurs when students from the high school level to the university level. Most Chinese youngsters report that university features a much lighter workload, in part because the dreaded 高考 (gāokǎo) university entrance examination is over and done with. While in the US admission to universities isn't quite as challenging as actually doing well and graduating on time, in China most students strive a lot less once they've been admitted to a good university. This way well contribute to the huge number of Chinese students that study at universities overseas despite the handful of world-class universities here in China.
Oddly enough, the same government involvement that helps high school students become so knowledgable may be part of what's hindering Chinese universities. "On the one hand, the schools need more administrative power in terms of admissions and recruiting," says Yu Lizhong, president of East China Normal University. "On the other, to be able to hire a better teaching staff requires a lot more money than what the government is providing now." Yu, whose university is home to New York University's newly established Shanghai campus, speaks admiringly of a recent NYU fundraising event he participated in, adding that Chinese universities, predominantly funded by the government, have a lot of catching up to do. The world of Chinese education is a most complicated one, indeed.
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