Archive for ‘teaching’

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fourth Modernization, One Step Up

The days of National Higher Education Entrance Examination or gaokao (高考) count as days of judgment in the lives of those Chinese students who manage to take part in them. Preparing for and taking the exams is said to be extremely stressful – and it is costly, with entire families acting as investors in a hopeful young career.

Xinhua, in an article republished by Enorth, points out the apparent novelties in Beijing’s latest Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-Term Education Reform and Development for the 2010-2020 period (国家中长期教育改革和发展规划纲要 or shorter, 教育规划纲要), published on Thursday. The Outline wants to overcome the principle of one test defining a lifetime, and “to promote the implementation of quality education and the innovation of talent cultivation”. According to Zhang Li (张力), director of the ministry of education’s National Research Center for Educational Development, the Outline defines enrollment along the criteria of the choice of the best (择优), self-determination (自主), recommendation (推荐), orientation or direction (定向), and liberties to make exceptions (破格). With a more pluralistic set of methods in the enrollment system, the educational system will make good efforts so as not to leave out potentials and talented learners, Zhang believes.

The outline  also aims for more clarity and transparency in enrollment procedures, writes Xinhua, after incidents of fraud (舞弊事件) and confusion concerning extra points (加分) awarded in past exams.

A more pluralistic approach to enrollment notwithstanding, the Outline, for the sake of transparency, also tries to provide for standardization in enrollment.

Starting with elementary schools, teaching qualities are planned to be secured by establishing certification and registration systems, plus regular assessments of teachers’ performances. Payment for teachers, at the same time, should be brought into line with the incomes of other civil servants, the Outline reportedly stipulates. Also to the end of adequate remuneration (and probably because status continues to matter, too), standardized job titles are to be set forth.

People’s Daily Online (in English) lists a number of other (and frequently familiar-sounding) pledges from the Outline, and states that

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the State Council have issued a notice requiring local Party committees and governments to carefully implement the national education outline.  The outline vows to spare no efforts to “run every school well and bring quality education to every student. No child shall be allowed to drop out due to family financial difficulties.”

For sure, every step, however small, that can be made to meet the Outline’s lofty promises will be in the country’s public interest. China runs dry of crude labour, the Economist writes in its latest edition*).The number of 15- to 29-year-olds will sharply from next year, wages are rising, and to make similar gains in productivity as China did in the decade following 1995 (labor costs tripled, but productivity per worker quintupled, according to the paper), the country would have to increase its supply of skilled workers. And as labor is no longer abundant, China’s “floating population” – the migrant workers – needed to be provided with opportunities to “drop anchor” in the country’s urban areas.

According to this logic, “dropping anchor” would therefore be a macro-economic must, as much as a goal in social struggles. Guangdong Province has taken steps into this direction, with a provincial Service Management Regulation on Migrant Population (广东省流动人口服务管理条例), which came into effect all over the province on January 1 this year, after it had been tested in Shenzhen previously.

But there are setbacks, too. In April, precisely in Shenzhen, vice mayor Li Ming, apparently also in his capacity as the head of the police bureau, said that if Shenzhen could get the legal basis, it would restrict migrant workers who have been unemployed for longer than three months from renting houses.

No matter what the CCP’s central committee will tell local officials, neither a possible ease on household registration nor guaranteed school attendence of all children regardless of their families’ financial situations, will be achieved without a lot of fighting. Locally, that is.

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Note
*) The Economist, July 31st 2010, p. 7

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Related
Education in the PRC, Wikipedia (of today)
Little Desire for Head Teacher Positions, June 15, 2009
Crossroads: China’s Development, Febr 20, 2009

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Obituary: Wu Guanzhong, 1919 – 2010

Wu Guanzhong (吴冠中), a contemporary Chinese painter, died in a Beijing hospital on Friday, aged 90. He was born in Yixing County (宜兴县), Jiangsu Province, on August 29, 1919. He graduated from the National College of Art in 1942, and studied fine arts at the National Higher School of Fine Arts (巴黎国立高等美术学校, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts) in Paris from 1947, and returned to China in 1950 to teach at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (中央美术学院), Tsinghua University’s Department of Archtecture, the Beijing Academy of Fine Arts (北京艺术学院), and the Central Academy of Arts (中央工艺美术学院 – now the Academy of Arts and Design of Tsinghua University). Functionaries of the China Artists Association (中国美术家协会) credited him with the creative concept of modernization of Chinese painting (“中国画现代化” 的创作理念) and the nationalization of oil painting.

Wu was part of a generation of Chinese painters, along with Zhao Wuji and Zhu Dejun, who went to France to study painting in the 1940s and then set about helping to transform Chinese art with Western techniques, the New York Times wrote in 2005. The suggestion that Wu helped to bring about the nationalization of painting, as Chinese obituaries quote the China Artists Association, points into a different, or at least different, direction.

At the most recent CPPCC conference (of which Wu was a member, too), China Artists Association’s deputy chairman and Guangdong Painting Academy president Xu Qinsong accused “western Capital” of influencing the trends of domestic (Chinese) art. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a recent Minsheng Bank’s decision to invest in contemporary Chinese art was political, and not simply about sponsoring.

During the Cultural Revolution, Wu Guanzhong was sent to the countryside to work in a Hebei village. In 1973, he was retransferred to Beijing to create paintings for a hotel, and in 1978, the Central Academy of Arts, the institution he had taught at from 1964, organized an exhibition of his works, apparently as a signal of rehabilitation. In 1991, he became an Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

In 1994, Wu became a member of the CPPCC’s Standing Committee, and in 2007, the Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House published The Complete Works of Wu Guanzhong.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lee Teng-hui: ECFA first Step in Annexation

Former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui (李登辉) criticized the Ma government on Saturday for arbitrarily and stubbornly pushing the signature of an economic framework agreement with China. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) paid no attention to the people’s misgivings and opposition, and rejected a referendum on the issue. This not only violated democracy and common sense, but was a mere reliance on ruling power, and symbolic rather than practical democracy (凭恃执政权力架空民主).

Speaking at an opening ceremony for a Lee Teng-hui School training class for leadership talents (李登辉昨参加李登辉学校「领导人才养成班」) in northern Taipei County, Lee also appealed to the public to recognize that ECFA was a step in a Chinese  annexation of China [correction: Taiwan]. Steps that would follow were cultural education, and the third and last step would be the Hongkongization (香港化) of Taiwan.

Lee confirmed that on April 23, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) would hold a press conference in which he would take part. The Double-Ying debate [a public debate between president Ma Ying-jeou and DPP chairwoman Tsai Ying-wen (蔡英文)] on ECFA is scheduled for April 25 [update: or April 30].

On the basis of its WTO membership, Taiwan was in a position to discuss free-trade agreements with countries other than China, Lee said. He expressed regret that corporations rushed to China to make money, closing factories [in Taiwan], causing income inequalities which made the Taiwanese unable to stand together. How to balance the gap between the rich and the poor had to be the most important issue for the government.

Winston Wong (李登辉 王文洋), Hung Jen Group chairman and himself an at times controversial investor in China, also took part in the school ceremony and asked why, since the focus of the ECFA supporters was on cutting customs, the negotiators didn’t put a tariff concession framework agreement first.

President Ma, who is on nation-wide tour to drum up support for ECFA, said that while he didn’t oppose the idea of a referendum, the government had no authority to initiate a proposal to hold a referendum.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Schools in Qinghai Earthquake, initial stats

After the Wenchuan earthquake, in the field of primary and secondary schools, and including buildings in public places and residential areas, especially in the rebuilding process in Wenchuan, China has intensified the work on making things earthquake-proof. This work has been done continuously. Concerning this matter, you can make some enquiries with the Minstry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, and the education authorities.

汶川地震发生以后,中国对中小学校包括一些公共场所的建筑,包括民居,特别是汶川地震恢复重建过程中,都强化了抗震设防工作,这方面的工作我们一直在做,有关的情况,可以向住房和城乡建设部和教育部门做一些询问。

Civil Affairs Ministry’s disaster relief director Zou Ming (邹铭), answering a foreign journalist’s question on a press conference convened by the State Council Information Office on Thursday, quoted by Singapore’s Morning News.

According to “some reports” quoted by Morning News, 70 per cent of Yushu County’s (玉树县) schools have collapsed in Wednesday’s / Thursday’s earthquake in Qinghai Province, and at least 66 students and ten teachers were killed.

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Related
“Older buildings fell, newer ones stayed up”, Reuters, April 16, 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Censorship: a “Double-Win”

It’s not that Google or Yahoo were opposed against all kinds of restrictions on internet content, writes the Telegraph. But information filtering as advocated by the Australian government – and scheduled to be passed as law by parliament this year – is raising concerns even at government level. “Our main message of course is that we remain committed to advancing the free flow of information which we view as vital to economic prosperity and preserving open societies globally,” the paper quotes Michael Tran, US State Department spokesman.

Only few people would probably contest that child pornography or bestiality need to be off-limits as internet content. But when filtering kicks in on contents such as “details on how to carry out criminal activity”, the problems that will arise are apparent. It’s hard to see how a filtering system should be more intelligent than a search machine – whose search results won’t usually hit the bull’s-eye either.

The filter also faces practical problems, with many considering it to be technologically unworkable and a waste of resources, writes the Telegraph. And a waste of resources it is. It has become conventional wisdom that in every project, the focus should be on avoiding flaws in good time, rather than to clean up their aftermath. The Philippine’s UNESCO National Commission chairwoman Rosario Manalo observes that

… past educational goals focused on economic skills, materials demands and the transfer of cognitive content. Today’s objectives give priority to arts, civics, history and values education around which new attitudes should be developed.

And she feels that

… civics education should be strenghtened. Civics teaches the student to understand his human rights and corresponding responsibilities. She notes that civics education programs described in different UNESCO handbooks are political in their orientation. The idea of responsibility for all aspects of tangible heritage – national and global, cultural and natural – must be emphasized, for this is required of the twenty-first century world citizen. In short, there should be a balance between the emphasis on the philosophies of political science and the concerns of heritage conservation.

The political framework (which critics may view as a “world government” ambition) may be dubious. But while there should be no misunderstanding about human rights, which apply even when individuals act irresponsibly, I still do like the link between rights and duties. In the long run, I can only expect others to respect my own rights, when I respect the rights of others myself. Manalo uses a beautifully old-fashinoned term: nobleness of heart. Noone with some nobleness of heart will be interested in consuming the kind of internet content the Australian government claims to worry about. There has been a lot of talk about “information literacy” or Medienkompetenz in Germany’s education system during the past decade or so. It usually (and conveniently) seems to amount to the use of the internet in the first place.

But many students know the internet better than their teachers. Computer literacy should be an aspect of information literacy indeed – but it’s the easiest skill to implement. A lot more needs to count here.

Every packaging is a medium. It suggests high value when there is consumer electronics inside. And when I’m opening a pack of cat food, the sound of it will make the cats come in from anywhere. Consumption is lit by the package. Or, as Wayne Millage told Der Spiegel years ago, 70 percent of all purchases [in America were or still] are made on impulse. The package must speak to consumers all over the world, and does it in a split second.

That’s what information is doing to us – constantly. And nobody recommends filters in a supermarket to protect the poor consumption monkeys from their own impulse. “People must decide what is good for them.” Those of them who understand how this kind of information works can do that. But for those of them who don’t, the result of the trick is constant disappointment – and an odd desire for more of the same.

Reasonable purchasing behavior, and reasonable use of the “new media” alike, don’t require censorship. They require practical education. But given that private enterprise is frequently “advising” the school bureaucracy, chances for such training may turn out to be dim.

We’d rather raise information junkies first, and then sell them mandatory filtering software. That constitutes double-win – for the supply side.

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Related
CRI: Google in the Mirror of Colonial History, March 22, 2010
Information Literacy, different view, Feb 24, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

To Sum Things Up…

It’s the longest winter I have ever seen – it turned to snow shortly before Christmas, and the snow has been with us ever since. But when I went home through the white countryside late this afternoon, the sun was shining. Most days have been overcast during the past weeks, with frequent snowfalls. The noticable thing was that the sun has set only minutes ago. There is an air of spring, in terms of daylight.

Some of the lessons I’m teaching are currently China-related. The material was probably compiled in the days when  China was still worshipped, rather than it’s political system condemned. Then again, to be fair, even the material we used as students decades ago, during the cold war, painted a rather respectful picture of the Soviet Union, too. So maybe school material concerning China won’t reflect the mainstream media’s take in the future either.

China-skeptical isn’t the word to describe the mood of many of the students (all still minors). In my own mind, I welcome the turn away from the naive public attitude of the past decades. The regrettable downside of that is that the pendulum of public opinion never seems to seek a position from where people would observe and analyze a situation calmly, rather than wallowing in positive or negative feelings. Frankly, I’m glad that my main subject is English.

I stick to the material, and to the usual methodologies. But when there was another rather derogatory comment from a student last week, I wondered aloud about how rapidly the once reverent public attitude towards China here had turned into instinctive rejection, just as America was rather disliked five years ago and is now in pretty high esteem again: “Do you really think that either country changed quickly enough to justify such rapid changes in perception?”

If any reader should believe that this blog is about “China-bashing”, I can assure him or her that it isn’t going to change. I’m enjoying posting here the way I do. But indoctrination isn’t my line of business.

For a while, I have asked myself if I should add Liu Xiaobo‘s statement of December 23 to the class material. It would be legitimate – a teacher has such liberties in designing lessons. There is no need for a wall between school and the real world. I’ll make up my mind some time this month – advice will be welcome. I haven’t made up my mind yet because I distrust the intensity of my own feelings.

I feel that it is hard to think of another voice from China which could do better in describing the country’s development during the past three decades than Liu Xiaobo’s. No text of this size and nature can describe China’s sitution – or any country’s situation – comprehensively. But Liu’s statement – which apparently didn’t make it to the ears of his judges – might come rather close to such an end.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obituary: Mark Anthony Jones, 1969 – 2009

Mark Anthony Jones, an Australian author, blogger, and teacher, died in November last year, writes the Peking Duck. Mark learned in June 2009 2008 that he had cancer, and he stopped blogging and commenting soon after. I didn’t know him personally, but started missing his disagreeable pro-Beijing posts and comments as soon as he ceased writing them. He made himself friends and enemies. I hope that he died peacefully, and I’m feeling sad tonight.

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Update/Related

Mark Anthony Jones: Flowing Waters Never Stale, Google Books (scroll down there for a table of content, and excerpts from the book)

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Friday, January 1, 2010

No Global Governance as “Old Pain” lingers

“One World” – instead of “first, second, and third world” – used to be an unalienable piece of vocabulary in every do-gooder’s wordpool, at least from Western countries. German weekly Die Zeit, not really a bunch of treehuggers, but a paper usually giving responsible opinion and unhurried advice, is re-assessing the one-world concept in an online article. Yes, in London and Pittsburgh, the governments of the world did write new rules for the financial markets. In Geneva, they held another round of  negotiations about a new trade system. They will be back in Davos again soon, to perambulate all the global problems in their totality. They tried to save global climate in Copenhagen. But they are forgetting the financial crisis, the further we seem to leave it behind us. The more remote the memory, the smaller chances are to write global rules that would be globally effective.

And they failed in Copenhagen – “Every country has its own dirty taboo”. Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schröder liked the idea of global governance, writes Die Zeit. In the end, they hoped, negotiated agreements and international organizations – NGO’s and corporations included – would lead to some kind of substitute for a desirable, but still unachievable global government. Liberals and left-leaning people in general seemed to support the concept.

But global emergency management has proved to be the maximum of what global governance could achieve together. There is no common concept of tomorrow’s world, writes Die Zeit. Both Europeans and Asians had gained a new self-confidence vis-à-vis America. Europe’s economic and social systems had shown a remarkable resistance against the effects of the economic crisis, and India and China put economic development before climate protection. “In India, you can’t see the climate problem eye-to-eye with Europe or the USA”, the paper quotes Shyam Saran, an advisor to India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh. On a global scale, Europe’s concept of political integration appears to be a  rather singular one.

Europe should get prepared for a world with a patchwork of powers which go it alone, like China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, and clusters of global governance like ASEAN or the EU, Die Zeit quotes a study by the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation.

Die Zeit lists liberals and left-leaning people who actually start to like the idea of such a world – and of nationalists who had always been skeptical of any kind of global governance anyway.

The article’s author actually confuses China’s party and state chairman Hu Jintao with the country’s chief councillor Wen Jiabao. And in other ways, the author also still seems to underestimate the distance between East (arguably excluding several countries such as India, Vietnam, and possibly Japan and South Korea) on the one hand, and Western countries on the other. There isn’t really much reason to believe that a common view of the world will emerge any time soon. Jonathan Spence, in a Reith Lecture in Liverpool, broadcast by the BBC on June 10th 2009 June 10th 2008,  suggested that the issue of the Opium Wars

is now no longer a real one in any important sense and to harp on it now is not something the Chinese have to do. It’s something they can do if they wish to keep an old pain alive.

You can be pretty sure that China’s government does want to keep the old pain alive. “To remember the bitter past to cherish the happy present tense” is a tradition that either came into being or was revived by the CCP during the Chinese Communists’ early days in power – and it is still an efficient way to keep the Chinese public sufficiently afraid or distrustful of foreigners to disapprove of “foreign concepts”. Even otherwise highly open-minded Chinese people often cling to these “open accounts from history”.

At hindsight, at the end of the 20th century or at the end of the 21rst century’s first decade, one may probably say that it was naive to believe that world governance could be an option. You can’t do business with a totalitarian regime, unless you are ready to do business at its terms.

The Zeit article, as flawed as I believe it to be in one or another detail, caught me by surprise. I’m left-leaning myself, and until today, I have felt that my re-orientation towards regional solutions, rather than global ones, was something not too many others of my political color would share. But there seems to be a general trend towards regional action. Elinor Ostrom, an American economist, argues that people may actually commit to the common, rather than the individual use of resources, so long as they succeed in organizing the use and maintenance of such resources. A single system of rules for rather large international fishing zones was likely to fail, she suggests. Polycentric solutions – or regional ones – might work. Experimenting with different ideas in different places could amount to a competition of different ideas., which would either convince bystanders, or leave them unenthused.

And even steps deemed small by its actual practitioners might convince visitors from overseas.

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Related:
Mark Lynas: “How China wrecked the Copenhagen Deal”, December 24, 2009

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