Walking into immersion class on my first day of school at Gao Xin High School was overwhelming, to say the least. I was pleasantly greeted with applause, and one girl told me she was my desk mate. My initial reaction was how tiny the desks were. At five foot seven, I was one of the taller students in the room and was very frustrated when I realized I couldn’t even cross my legs under my desk. My desk mate was a very petite girl who comfortably sat at her desk with plenty of room.
Looking around, I noticed how many people were in this one room. Each row had nine desks and there were what seemed like at least ten rows. Thinking back to BHS, most classes have between fifteen to twenty students, and never more than twenty-five. This was a real shock. I quickly began to question how all these students could even learn if the classes were this big. How could they ask questions? How could they truly understand the material when there were so many people the teacher had to focus on?
During my first immersion class, these questions were answered. My desk mate leaned over to me and whispered, “The first class is physics, the teacher is very strict. You can’t read in this class,” she said, pointing to my book on the table. I hurriedly put it away as the teacher walked in and all the students stood up to greet him. The rest of this class consisted of utter silence. Not one student asked a question or showed any inkling of confusion. After class I asked some classmates if they understood what the teacher was talking about, but they all had no clue.
This made me question the education system in China and question how these students do so well on exams, if they don’t understand the material. I’m assuming that these students go self study until they understand, but they seem to have a different definition of what “understanding the material” means. That’s where I realized the biggest difference between BHS and Gao Xin High School. BHS puts more emphasis on students working hard to analyze and apply what they learn rather than working hard to memorize it. BHS wants students to ask, why is something the way it is? Many teachers tell their students that in order to succeed in their class it is important to ask questions. Gao Xin High School, on the other hand, would rather a student get a good test score than ask these questions.
The reason for that is that the education system here is based on ranks. We are attending Gao Xin No. 1 High School, meaning that this is the best high school in the Gao Xin area. Students are sent to a high school based on their test scores from an early age. Students must get high scores in order to go to a good school like Gao Xin No. 1 High School. There is no need to ask the “why” questions because all they need is a high score.
Being in this system, even if it is for two hours a day, has made me realize the differences between the education system here and in America, but it has also made me realize why these differences occur.