BEIJING - It’s the beginning of the school year again. Since 2008, the Ministry of Education, together with the Chinese public television station CCTV, has broadcast a program called “The First Lesson” before the start of each new school year. This year is the fifth broadcast of the program, and as usual, all 220 million Chinese pupils, from elementary to secondary schools, are required to watch it and write something afterwards.
This year’s theme is “Beauty is by your side.”
In viewing each year’s theme, “Knowledge is the guardian of life” in 2008, “The education of love” in 2009, “The dreams” in 2010, and “In search of happiness” in 2011, we see China’s education field advancing with the times. They are gradually moving out of the conformism of patriotic and ideological ideas and are opening up to topics associated with life at a moral level.
To be fair, in comparison with the preaching of the past, “The First Lesson” has progressed in style. The program is well intentioned in using a magazine format to pass on mainstream values through inspirational stories. However, what remains to be answered is: can such a method really educate children about love, beauty, and inner happiness as the program intends?
First of all, we should be clear that a lot of the life’s lessons are taught in daily life rather than in classrooms. The best way to educate children is to allow them to have access to a wealth of life experiences. “The First Lesson” cannot be a substitute for this. For instance, how can a child whose life is filled with after-school classes and who has no time to dream understand the meaning of dreams?
This is precisely what the Chinese education system is oblivious to. In last year’s program, one of the guest-speakers in the video said that growing up was more important than school results. That’s absolutely true. However, in a country that lauds the concept of quality education, whereas in reality its practice is examination-oriented, talking about the principle is much easier than putting it into practice.
Moreover, the beautifully packaged program hides a danger: that adults are still trying to “indoctrinate” children. Even using a gentle method, the adults are nonetheless conveying their value system from the posture of wise men.
No innovation genes
The big difference in education between the West and the East is that the Chinese are inclined to play an authoritative teaching role whereas Westerners are more willing to be a companion. The latter won’t easily impose his view, but rather encourage independent thinking and diversified growth.
The educational trend today requires us to change towards being companions. The danger of an “authoritative preacher” is that it creates children who lack assertiveness, who blindly follow the mainstream, and who have no innovation genes.
When I watched a seven-year-old child in the CCTV video saying that, “Love is sharing. Love is dedication,” which are obviously carved and polished speeches, I suddenly felt distressed. When are we going to stop trying to shape children who obey and heed, and who are as standard as their uniforms?
When Barack Obama assumed office in 2009 and made a speech to all American schoolchildren on their first day of school, it caused a controversy. It was actually the Department of Education that got him into trouble, by suggesting that the pupils write a reflection on his speech. Parents objected to the idea. In their view, children go to school to learn how to think independently, not to develop the habit of bowing to authority.
A country’s independent personality depends on its citizens having the ability to think independently. A country’s innovative gene comes from people with passion, curiosity and creativity. These qualities must be nurtured from childhood, and it starts with letting the children be themselves.