Do we value the opinions of our young people? Do their responses to school help us to improve our system of education?
In our blog post yesterday we published some initial thoughts on BBC 2’s “Chinese School”, which was broadcast this week. On the BBC website we can read the thoughts of a student who was involved in the making of this series.
Rosie Lunskey, 15, a pupil at Bohunt
I’m a normal teenager – I like my sleep and my freedom. But I traded it all in for more school than sleep each day, for four weeks with pushy teachers, all while wearing a completely atrocious tracksuit for almost 12 hours a day.
The project wasn’t what I expected – I had envisioned something like normal school but maybe with a little more homework or a silent classroom.
That is most definitely not what I got. It felt like we had no say in our education and what the teachers said went.
Acting like robots was the right way to go. For me, it was something I found difficult to get used to. I’m used to speaking my mind in class, being bold, giving ideas, often working in groups to advance my skills and improve my knowledge.
But a lot of the time in the experiment, the only thing I felt I was learning was how to copy notes really fast and listen to the teacher lecture us.
One of the hardest things to deal with was different expectations of me as a student. It felt like we had to always be the best. That there was no longer any point in trying if you weren’t going to be top of the class. Only the scores on tests mattered.
The classroom environment felt stressful and enclosed. When you have 50 other pupils in the room it’s hard enough to concentrate without being made to feel as if you are competing against them all the time.
Science was particularly challenging. On one of the first days we were having the normal, slightly boring lectures from Ms Yang. Then we were given questions to answer on the subject and I understood nothing. I hadn’t realised I would be this self-conscious, not being able to pick up a new topic at such speed and it got to me.
I felt stressed out sitting in my lesson completely muddled. It was awful knowing I not only had my peers watching me, but the cameras too. I felt stupid and just utterly pulled under by the weight of everything. The Chinese teachers think the pupils in their classes are like bulletproof sponges, sucking in information yet conveniently ignoring the fact they are tired and very bored.
However there were definitely some good bits. I loved learning about fan dancing and Chinese cookery. These were certainly welcome distractions from dull lectures about Pythagoras’s theorem and English grammar.
We suggest Rosie’s point of view could be shared with students going through initial teacher training and form the basis for some very interesting discussions, as could this entire BBC series. There should also be value in using this material in ongoing professional development in schools that keep their practices and pedagogy under continuous review.
We’re pleased to say that our initial fears that the producers of this series might be advocating an inappropriate pedagogy were unfounded. Or if it was the intention to ‘prove’ the so-called Chinese ‘methods’ are best then it must have become very obvious very quickly that this is not the case.