Man from Hunan farming village gets doctorate, speaks at Harvard commencement

Man from Hunan farming village gets doctorate, speaks at Harvard commencement
JISHOU, HUNAN — A man from a small village near Changsha has become the first Chinese person to address a Harvard commencement ceremony. Hé Jiāng 何江 is the older son of a farming couple in Ningxiang county. Though the family barely had two coins to rub together, Hé did very well at school and his college entrance examination (gāokǎo 高考) scores gained him admission to the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, Anhui province. On May 26, he graduated with a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology from Harvard, and was selected to be the graduate school speaker at the graduation ceremony. In his speech (text in Chinese and English), Hé said he is concerned that modern medicine is unevenly distributed, so that poor people, like his own family and their neighbors, don’t have access to adequate care. He related a dramatic incident from his childhood, when his mother wrapped his hand in cloth soaked in liquor and set the cloth on fire after he was bit by a spider.    You see, the part of China I grew up in was a rural village, and at that time pre-industrial. When I was born, my village had no cars, ...

Essay questions from China’s college entrance exam

JISHOU, HUNAN — China’s teenagers took the dreaded gaokao 高考 — the two-day national college entrance examination — two weeks ago. The gaokao tests specific knowledge of literature, politics, history, math, science, English and Chinese (putonghua 普通话), and requires an essay in putonghua. This year, almost 9.4 million students sat the gaokao. That’s more than the entire population of New Jersey! Students have an hour to wrote an 800-character response to the essay prompts. (Some versions require 1,000 characters.) Each province has a slightly different gaokao version from the others, and that includes the essay prompts, which are pretty cryptic — much worse than the freshman essay prompt I had, about the many uses of the paper clip. Shanghaiist has compiled translations of several gaokao essay prompts, some of which I share here. Hunan Province (where I live): There was one a place where everyone was very poor. Most of the people who worked here left after two years. However, someone stayed for years and turned it into the most beautiful village with the others. Write an argumentative article or a descriptive article on this topic. Sichuan Province (west of Hunan): The world belongs to you only after you stand ...

China’s dreaded college entrance examination — the test from Hell 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — High school students in China suffered the annual college entrance exam (高考 gaokao) earlier this month. Unlike the SAT and ACT exams in the US, the gaokao is given only once a year and tests specific knowledge about content. In addition, it is basically the only criterion for admission to a university in China. Needless to say, these factors (and the country’s huge population) create a lot of stress. The Telegraph carried a story from a small city in Hubei province, which is just north of Hunan. It seems one high school had had a surprisingly stellar record for several years in getting its students placed in China’s top universities. Provincial officials checked it out, and discovered widespread cheating on the exam that was condoned by the school’s staff. So, this year the education office sent a small army of exam proctors (invigilators) from other parts of Hubei, who were ruthless in removing any possible method from students’ persons, including checking for cell phones hidden in students’ underwear. Students were left in tears (since they hadn’t really prepared for the exam) and parents were irate. The school had to call the cops to put down a near ...

Florida school board member takes state skills test, says test is crap 8

JISHOU, HUNAN — Here’s a novel idea. A very well educated school board member in Orange County, Florida, took his state’s mandatory assessment test, which tests reading, math, science and writing, and he did very poorly. So, he wonders, how valid are those tests, really? The board member, Rick Roach, is no dummy. He has two master’s degrees in education and educational psychology, and he’s working on a doctorate. He’s trained 18,000 teachers in 25 states, and served on his school board for four terms. But his reading score on a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test was 62%, which would have sent him to remediation classes. On the math part, he guessed on all 60 questions, getting only 10 right. In an email to education critic Marion Brady, Roach wrote: It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be ...

From Danwei.com: What life is like for Chinese high school students

One of the staff writers at Danwei.com has written a poignant and illuminating essay about his experience as a high school (senior middle, in local parlance) school student. Here’s an excerpt describing the typical day in a Chinese high school. Contrast his description with life in your own high school. I have to say that high school is a monastery and an army boot camp combined. Eleven classes every day. We had to rise before dawn and went to bed after 11. After the last class, we were encouraged to use any bit of extra time for study. There was one student who would go to read his lessons every night in the toilet, because that was the only place where the light would be kept on 24 hours. Everyone hated him, because his breach of a delicate equilibrium that is vital for us to live in peace with each other — he studied just a little too hard. The school encouraged us to be frugal with our time. It had a slogan hanging from the main building: “Time is like water in sponge; if you squeeze harder, there is always more.” And contemplate this paragraph about the possible consequences ...

Recruiting students

ZHANGJIAJIE, HUNAN — This week I learned that colleges in China have the same problem as colleges in the USA. They need to pull students in to stay viable. Students in China choose their majors before entering university. So, each college in a uni (we call them “departments” in the States) would like to maximize the chances of getting sufficient enrollment. It’s not feasible to visit all the high schools in western Hunan on recruiting drives, but relatively easy to visit the preparatory college here in Zhangjiajie to attract some candidates. That’s what ten of us teachers and students from Jishou U did. We did two hours of marketing to about 200 students midway between high school and university: first our vice dean, then me (with student interpreter), then a sophomore from our college, then a Q&A. There were also two Powerpoint presentations, one by Vice Dean Song Jie and the other by sophomore Helen Xiao. Our greatest hits: our graduates’ 98% employment rate, the foreign teacher who can speak a little Chinese, the sophomore girl who has broadcast the weather on municipal TV, the dean who has met President Hu Jintao. To be honest, I was surprised and just ...

And we’re off! 6

[Cross-posted at the Daily Kos, where it was just rescued from diary oblivion.] JISHOU, HUNAN — Classes have been in session for two weeks now. It’s taken me a while to build a head of steam for blogging. Been a little busy, as you will see. As was the case last year, I am teaching 16 classes a week (that’s eight groups of students for 100 minutes at a go), but with some changes in subjects and students. This term, I am teaching oral English to the freshman and sophomore undergraduates majoring in Business English, and Western Culture and Civilization to the juniors in Business English. None of the juniors have oral English classes anymore, which befuddles me, but apparently It’s the Way Things Are Done Here™, according to fellow foreign teachers at other schools. The Business English students have a course in public speaking, but the English education majors — who will presumably be teaching English — have no more English language classes. More about that later. Previously, my writing classes were the biggest consumer of my prep time, what with reading essays and diaries and plotting more ways to get my students to write English. This term, it’s ...
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