Apart from what I hope is a justifiable human desire to be part of a community and no longer be treated as an outsider, to run my own business in a regulated environment and not live in fear of it being taken away from me, and not to concern myself unduly that the air my family breathes and the food we eat is doing us physical harm, there is one overriding reason I must leave China. I want to give my children a decent education.
The domestic Chinese lower education system does not educate. It is a test centre. The curriculum is designed to teach children how to pass them. In rural China, where we have lived for seven years, it is also an elevation system. Success in exams offers a passport to a better life in the big city. Schools do not produce well-rounded, sociable, self-reliant young people with inquiring minds. They produce winners and losers. Winners go on to college or university to take “business studies.” Losers go back to the farm or the local factory their parents were hoping they could escape.
There is little if any sport or extracurricular activity. Sporty children are extracted and sent to special schools to learn how to win Olympic gold medals. Musically gifted children are rammed into the conservatories and have all enthusiasm and joy in their talent drilled out of them. (My wife was one of the latter.)
And then there is the propaganda. Our daughter’s very first day at school was spent watching a movie called, roughly, “How the Chinese people, under the firm and correct leadership of the Party and with the help of the heroic People’s Liberation Army, successfully defeated the Beichuan Earthquake.” Moral guidance is provided by mythical heroes from communist China’s recent past, such as Lei Feng, the selfless soldier who achieved more in his short lifetime than humanly possible, and managed to write it all down in a diary that was miraculously “discovered” on his death.
The pressure makes children sick. I speak from personal experience. To score under 95 per cent is considered failure. Bad performance is punished. Homework, which consists mostly of practice test papers, takes up at least one day of every weekend. Many children go to school to do it in the classroom. I have seen them trooping in at 6am on Sundays. In the holidays they attend special schools for extra tuition, and must do their own school’s homework for at least a couple of hours every day to complete it before term starts again. Many of my local friends abhor the system as much as I do, but they have no choice. I do. I am lucky.