BBC Doc on Rigorous Chinese Education System Sparks Online Debate

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What would Harry Potter make of Chinese teaching methods?

Chinese teachers were set up in U.K.classrooms to use methods familiar to students at home, but rare in the West.

A BBC documentary called Are Our Kids Tough Enough?, featuring five teachers from China using strict Chinese teaching methods in a U.K. high school, has prompted an online debate over which style of education is the best.

In the documentary, which aired on BBC Two this week, five top Chinese teachers spent a month with students at the Bohunt School in Liphook in Hampshire, England.

China's tough education system produces strong results in subjects like math and science, capturing the interest of educators in the U.S. and Europe where some feel the child-centered approach does not do enough to teach the basics.

After the trailer for the show went viral, many Chinese netizens said they opposed the rigid methods — familiar perhaps to readers of Amy Chua's 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, while many Brits said they considered them a useful way of improving grades.

Li Aiyun, one of the teachers featured in the documentary, described the classroom in Britain as "chaotic."

"When I assigned them to do some work in the classroom, some of the students were eating and some were even putting on their makeup when I walked in," she said in an article carried on the WeChat social media site.

The Chinese teachers use rigid methods familiar to Chinese students — no talking, no questions, study hard and obey the teacher.

School hours were also extended in the British experiment, starting earlier at 7 a.m. and ending later at 7 p.m. In the morning, students have to do morning exercises in front of the Chinese flag and the Union Jack, and students are also also required to do eye exercises during breaks. Some of the students were caught on camera in tears — as was one of the teachers.

"Chinese kids are very disciplined, and English kids are very individual and realistic. For example, they were full of passion when we had a contest to see who could make the best speech. Moreover, they are very humorous," said Li.

At the end of the four-week period, students from the Chinese class and those from the equivalent regular class at the school will be tested to see who performs better.

Zhan Wansheng, director of the China National Institute for Educational Research (CNIER), told the Global Times that there was support for Chinese educational methods that reflected problems in the West. "Their educational system always overly focuses on themselves and ignores grades," Zhan told the paper.