Archive for December 19th, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Learning Faster?

Learning to read and write took more time when I was a child. Nowadays, it happens faster. But students hardly ever reach the perfection we had to reach to achieve good marks in school.

Does that hurt? Not necessarily. Orthography in the 1970s and 1980s were probably not so different from Imperial exams for would-be officials to the Chinese Court. Every error counted against you, even though more perfection didn’t necessarily lead to more efficient or simply better communication.It isn’t only about efficiency. It’s true that one can make better use of ones lifetime when the choice of perfection or that-will-do lies with the individual. And maybe less perfection can also be more efficient.

But it starts looking both worrisome and funny when someone writes a text for a song which is full of flaws, as I’ve seen happening recently. Nice tune, not a bad message, but hilarious in the way it was put. People whose writing sucks have started thinking of themselves as poets. Some of my grandparents did better in writing than them (some of their old letters are really beautiful), after only four to six years of school education – but they weren’t even aware of their communicational skills.

Assessing the value of an essay written in English by students these days can become a real nuisance under such conditions – especially when they hold their own skills in such high esteem. I’m pretty sure that their options for expressing their views in English are becoming smaller, year after year. Good for them that they don’t realize this. After all, their ability to describe and understand abstract matters in German is becoming smaller, too.

That doesn’t matter if you want to become a financial analyst. A cabaret artist recently quoted one: There’s a lot of imagination in this share price. Yes, that was a few months before the crash.

For sure, there was more imagination in the chart and its backgrounds than in the guy’s description of it. But he was on TV anyway. Business economists will re-invent the world without much imagination, just with a lot of hot air which will lead to another Big Bang: We’ve got to expand!


Where is the border between perfectionism and reason? I’m wondering if we are teaching and learning the right things for our times’n places. I’m off to designing an imaginative curriculum now.

Friday, December 19, 2008

No Independent Labor Unions, but Strikes anyway

Be nondirective, make
your few words precious.
When the work is done, end
gained, everyone will say:
We did it by ourselves,
naturally.                     —  Tao Te Ching, 17


China’s state chairman Hu Jintao yesterday praised the achievements made during the past 30 years of reform. He also said that that China would never adopt a “Western political system” – the success of the last 30 years showed there was no need to change the way China’s 1.3 bn people are governed.

During the past 30 years of reform, it was hardly the central government which acted as a pacemaker. The groundbreaking steps were often taken by people on the ground – because they wanted to take these steps.  Even during the years of Maoism, there were initiatives on the ground in several places to commit such “mistakes of line”.

Now, the past thirty years of reform are declared a success, and the central government dubs itself its champion: We – the CCP – did it by ourselves. Naturally, because they are Confucians, rather than Taoists.

Just as naturally, there are no formal independent labor unions. But apparently, people go on large-scale strikes. Taxi drivers started first, and this month, about 1000 teachers in Longhui County, Hunan Province, were said to be on strike.

Now it’s teachers in Chongqing, Sichuan province. While civil servants receive a minimum wage of 20,000 Yuan, teachers’ salaries are low and all their benefits withheld, according to an anonymous source quoted at sohnews on Dec 17.

Xinhua’s Chongqing branch makes no secret of the strikes, but has only good news to report today. It quotes Chongqing City Board of Education spokesman Zhao Weiliang (赵为粮) saying that news about large-scale strikes were “rumours”, that – ever since Dec 15 anyway – teachers and schools were working normally. Meantime, Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao reports that “teachers’ strikes are spreading nationwide” (to Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Hunan and Hubei recently).

Chongqing’s city government has announced to gradually improving the working terms for its teachers, says Xinhua (Chongqing): In rural areas, subsidies for teachers working in the compulsory education system should be improved to an average of 500 Yuan per month with effect from October [probably this year?], and the subsidies for retired and other school staff should be raised to 200 Yuan per month, it reports. And of course, the authorities in charge of paying the educational staff hadn’t sat idle before either. Spokesman Zhao stated that during the past three years, more than two bn Yuan had been used to gradually increase payment for teachers.

Maybe his last line is most telling: the relevant departments would step up efforts to develop the performance of the payment system.

According to Lianhe Zaobao, the authorities understand the gravity of the situation and try to accomodate the teachers, and at the same time take every effort to block information. All news about the teachers’ strikes are taken off Chinese websites, according to the Singaporean paper.

But all this is happening while Hu Jintao speaks in Beijing. Life is telling stories of its own. By following the prescriptions from the central government, China’s interest groups would get nowhere.

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