Education, Education

Education, Education

2012, Society  -   50 Comments
Ratings: 8.61/10 from 89 users.

In ancient times in China, education was the only way out of poverty - in recent times it has been the best way. China's economic boom and talk of the merits of hard work have created an expectation that to study is to escape poverty.

But these days China's higher education system only leads to jobs for a few, educating a new generation to unemployment and despair.

How do you choose a college when you're the first person in your family who can read? Or pay for it when 4 years of schooling costs sixty years of income?

What is it like to join the "ant-tribe", the 2 million newly graduated Chinese who, every year, can't find work? And what if the only job you could find involved selling education to other students, even if you knew it was worthless?

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50 Comments / User Reviews

  1. jon

    China will eat our lunch under the Joe Bidet Reign of Incompetency. Our Public education system is an utter failure. Our elected officials (our fault) are predominately corrupt, our main stream media is anti-American, and our moral compass is broken. The Rise and Fall of the American Empire as we watch like stupid sheep

  2. Joe Wong

    To the West, any article or publication on China must portray China as some sort of Orwellian police state. China in the eyes of the West is a caricature and its articles and publications must fit into that caricature of repression, despair, lack of freedom, ant-like society, and evil for the articles and publications to make sense to its editors and its misinformed readership and audience.

    Even an education system, though not perfect but is giving the best the West can produce a run for their money, needs to be portrayed to fit that caricature which was created in the mind of its intellectuals.

  3. Lucas R

    Along the same lines, there's an interesting verite education documentary that covers how three teachers resort to leveraging brain science to break through the boredom and disinterest of their students- while it doesn't fall into the trap of the "hero teacher" there's a great exploration of the personal journeys that led three teachers to use a neuroscience-based teaching model, and showing that model in action within their locales and student age brackets (Roland Park Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland; a high school in upstate New York, and a community college in Western Pennsylvania). What really struck me was the intimacy with which some students and teachers respond to the model- and it's a very human showing of the personal factors that drive education - both from a teacher and a student standpoint.

  4. kohl

    Wow, this is so depressing...
    I'm from Austria, and universities here are completely free, with some exceptions, but even then, you pay a maximum of 780€, which is still extremely little compared to the average income or other countries.
    Also, for most studies you just need your A-levels, and even if you don't have them you can catch them up at some schools, some of them are also free.
    Only for some studies, like medicine or psychology, where a lot of people apply, you need to do an entrance exam. I did the one for psychology where they took 500 applicants out of 1700, which is actually quite doable I think.

    And of course, people - me too - got enough to complain... Seems like the more luxurious life gets the more people have to complain about...

    And then I see people like this who work 100 times harder than me and have so much less than me, and I know that I can be lazy for the rest of my life and I'd still be better off than them...

    I don't want so sound like claiming to be such a good person, but I still wonder everyday: How can people who have enough to live choose Economy or Marketing, etc. as their field of study? For me, working in economy is automatically linked to exploiting others. To make a profit I inevitably have to keep my expenses low compared to my income. And we all know where cheap ressources from the bottom of their origin come from...

  5. Bob the Czech builder

    There is nothing difference here, than what happens in Czech Republic. State Uni = respected qualification. Private college = given a certificate and you learn nothing and dont get a job. And this is no different than in England...go to university, pay £20,000 in a worthless degree, like so many do = no job!

  6. trish

    so what i've learned is that China has adopted the U.S.'s scam of an education system because the power and money and hopes and dreams it raises without a consequence (because lack of insight of the unfortunate participants). bravo. MOOCs are here to save the day. dear corporatocracies, take your education system and shove it, it only gets in the way of actual learning and stifles natural curiosity anyway!

  7. KC

    I love this documentary, especially the lack of any narration from the film maker allowing the viewers to form their opinions about what is wrong with the commodification of education system. A consequence is that we have a glut of people with advanced degrees and loads of debts -- I know one person carrying a debt of at least $150,000 because she failed medical school, she is unemployed because every dollar she earns goes to service the debt. Overproduction of junk is a common symptom of the capitalist production system: Just look at the rows and rows of same/similar craps being sold at Walmart or look it up on Wikipedia. Although it is hard to think of someone's future as a product, it is what a degree has come to symbolize and who are we to deny someone wanting to pay for their futures. Especially since a degree can always be bought with the right price with today's ethos, in the form of private tutors, professional homework helpers, or paid-for surrogate test-takers.

    1. gwhosubex

      that similar crap is what drives prices down, drives up quality, puts some out of business to do other, more needed things.

      why is she $150,000 in debt? what props up those insane tuition fees? licensing, student aid, debts that pay your interest for a while... all of it made possibly only through government force.

    2. KC

      I agree that production of goods is cyclic. New products replace old products, or rather new craps replaces older craps. It is cyclic with its associated overproduction in every cycle. For example, biological science was the hot degree when I was growing up because of the genome project but now we have a glut of biologists. The question is not whether the system will turn around and find something else to do but what happens to the craps that have already produced. Sure, we can dump Elmo dolls in landfills but I do not think that is an option when it comes to human beings. You can't just tell people after 10 years, "Sorry you got the wrong degree, your life is screwed."

      I agree also with your second point that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In my friend's case, it is the government's policy regarding student loan that ended up backfired and put her in the current predicament and traps her there. Keep in mind though that for every case like hers there is also a success story. In fact with the right policy like student debt forgiveness there is no reason why people like my friend could not restart their life anew. I can assure you that there are in fact plenty of people who think and believe that tuition fees should be reduced and debts should be forgiven. The problem is the status quo (aka people with vested interest in keeping the system as is -- those getting paid) is too powerful both in terms of dollar and political strength for any meaningful policy change to happen.

      I get the impression that you feel fairly negative towards the government. I want to remind you that the government at least in US is still by the people and for the people. If you want change to happen you can volunteer for the right political candidate or group and make it happen, just look at the minimum wage law. At the end of the day, people still have a say in this country when it comes to the government. Trust me when I say that you are truly powerless when it comes to confronting corporate giants like JP Morgan Chase or Capital One. where your weapon, the only weapon, is the dollar in your pocket. However, your dollar means nothing to them when they practically own everything. And these entities would like nothing better than to have you believe that your government is your enemy rather than your tool to fight the inequality and injustice in the system (look at who is funding the Tea Party) so that they can operate blissfully in the fascade of choices when there is none. The freedom to choose from 100 types of beers does not mean you are free to choose the path of your life especially if that life is neatly packaged into a sheet of paper called a-degree.

      (I apologize for the US-centric view since I live in US and I can't really say much about how other governments work.)

  8. Jane Doe

    asians are like my educational GODS! nuff said.

  9. Irish Sweetness 4 StephTuitt

    Do you realise that China is far ahead of the rest of the planet when it comes to PISA scores? They're on their own at the top. America is 17th. Play with that.

    1. KC

      Do you realize that the machines that score PISA test is far ahead of the human race when it comes to PISA scores? The machines know every single answer, imagine that. They're on their own at the top. Human are ranked with inferior decimal numbers, machines are ranked with the superior binaries. Play with that.

      "Anybody that competes with slaves becomes a slave."

      --Norbert Wiener

  10. AmericanCommenter

    It all goes back to greed. When corporations find ways to pay workers less and less, while finding ways to work employees more and more, you get a situation in which there are less jobs, calling it efficiency and cost cutting, you get a dire outlook for the working class. What's worse is CEOs make multiples more than they used to, and companies sit on more cash than ever. Facebook has like a billion dollars parked off shore they can't use without paying taxes, so they borrowed the equivalent at near zero interest rates. So all these billions of dollars being controlled and parked somewhere doing nothing, with the corrupt few who know how to play the game, while a woman in China with one hand slings bricks and cooks dinner for her family daily, and students worldwide go in to debt chasing a dream that may never come true. My only consolation is that we all have God to answer to in the end.

    1. Jacek Walker

      Well, dreams are dreams and one is to awaken from them one day. But it is not only in China. Day dreaming is a worldwide phenomenon.
      Don't disturb the dreamers because they will get very angry with you. I know, I have tried it. ;)

    2. bluetortilla

      All very well said and you'd get no argument from me. The other side of the coin of course is that individuals kowtow to companies offering dead-end low-paying neurosis-inducing jobs without a fight. The lack of courage in the world is by far our biggest problem. Wouldn't that young guy working a horrible accounting job be much better off, for the time being, as a cook or a market man? And search how to use his skills from there? No, he's been trounced and bushwhacked, conned and sees no way out. 'Life is desperation,' he says. What of these big fat rich CEO's, managers, and bankers who 'seem' to run everything and to be getting away with holy murder? Are they really happy, raking it in to 'die laughing?' Hell no! They're just a bunch of scared losers like the rest of us. If there's one message I got from this is that society is full people choking in a corrupt, idiotic system where scamming and exploiting people is desirable. Everyone's afraid, everyone suffers. The truth in any economic system (despite dynasties that survive wars) is that the bottom line is the threat of military force. The only way out is to accept your death as an ever present possibility- at least there is solace in that. Store not earthly treasure.
      I am presently an English teacher at a city college in Big Urban China by the way, so I was able to see the truths in this doc. It also left out a lot of cool things and just how lovely young Chinese people are. And what great students they are capable of being!

    3. gwhosubex

      ok, so we should turn to the government, which has monopoly of power, guns, armies, taxation, prisons, courts... who are filled with benevolent, good-hearted, honest people with no conflicts of interest?

    4. bluetortilla

      AmericanComenter (boy what a moniker), is decidedly defeatist in some of his attitudes (his only consonance is that when we die God will sort 'em out!!).
      I don't think there is anybody to turn to but yourself. If you know how to behave in this world you've done your job. It will probably lead you on to bigger things. The only way to fight greed, which is like a big nuclear fireball, is to stop feeding it. Suffocate it. Stop consuming.

  11. Todosi

    but there is an alikeness with so many educational systems..

  12. MRudagar

    I'm calling BS here. There are too many things odd about this video to make me think its real. I have some deep experience dealing with Chinese people, and for one, they are not open to video cameras/interviews. How a fresh grad got hired and was able to bring a camera crew with him to two jobs? That is ridiculous. Furthermore, the peasant girl they were following just randomly happens to run into the scam artist they were also simultaneously following? Yeah....what are the chances of that? This movie, like so much else from the middle kingdom is bogus

    1. Gwayne Li

      you got a point there...

    2. ????????

      but there won't be any meaning making such documentary, would there?

    3. bluetortilla

      Yeah, well, I see your point too. But maybe they were paid to do it! :D
      Anyway, they certainly were believable, especially the speech maker (I hear that crap all the time, though his remorse didn't sound too genuine) and the nervous guy fighting for survival.
      The truth as you say is far different. People fight for jobs and get them, it's not all grim, people keep their jobs and get promoted. They socialize with colleagues. For most people it works out. If not, you can fall back on your folks for a while- no shame in that. High unemployment for the newly graduated is typical in lots of countries now.
      But one thing is dead on in this piece. China is chock full of snake oil lies and scams, and higher ed. can be a joke and a racket (not all of it by any means though), there's lots of phoniness and image flexing all around, and money money money money money is what drives far too many people's careers, friendships, and state of minds.
      It won't last forever.

  13. David Ewer

    Brilliant documentary and very saddening. I really felt for the Chinese kids and realise it's a similar situation to many Western nations.
    Clearly this system is not sustainable and will soon break down. Society must be organised for the good of the majority not the elites.

  14. hellosnackbar

    This documentary should be shown throughout the Western world to shake students from their indolence.
    Life is tough for poor Chinese.
    Benefits for work shy people in the UK should be reduced to the level that working Chinese have to tolerate!

    1. David Ewer

      Seems like you could do with some social education...

    2. bluetortilla

      Really, I think we want less toil and desperation, not more of it. Is there that much difference between laying around all day or senselessly pushing papers around for some meaningless bureaucracy? At the end of the day no productivity was attained in either case. At least the person laying around can afford to dream up a new invention...

  15. Jeremy Hughes

    Hey you guys, why am I the only one commenting on the fact that the American university system is THE SAME EXACT WAY and potentially WORSE due to the fact we have VERY FEW industries that aren't service based.

    THere was a jon stewart last week, where htey talked about China and the myth that it's just terrible there, well they did the numbers, and guess what? The economic divide between classes in America is roughly the same, cost of living vs income, same, number of people incarcarated, almost the same, number of homeless (ratio wise) about the same, number of broken dreams and nationalist ferver that prove worthless, same.

    We are China, China is America.


    1. bluetortilla

      Well said guest and love those typos!
      I think the plan is to get the whole world like that. Not me suckers and not my kids!

  16. KsDevil

    A person can go much farther with a fake Bachelors degree, personal drive, and continual learning. Middle managment and recruiters are not as smart as they think they are and can be sold a bill of goods rather easily.
    Formal education is so structured that is only helps those who mindlessly follow the status quo the classes are structured for. Imaginative thinking people will always face problems in such ridgid systems.

    1. bringmeredwine

      I know a couple of millionaires, and they never finished highschool. They had big dreams and were not afraid to take risks. Most went bust a few times till they found their niche.
      It was their drive and strong perserverance that made them successful.
      They researched and learned skills on their own time. "self-taught" I guess is the word.

    2. bluetortilla

      I think the day is coming when our 'hallowed institutions' will simply degenerate into 'hallow' institutions as people strive in extracurricular fashion to gain particular skills they need (e.g. Person A: Mandarin ability, Internet conferencing knowledge, and international tax law familiarity) to go for a position they want. Employers in the future will become more module orientated in their hiring, seeing skills rather than degrees as cost effective, and free lancing will increase do to the decentralization of the work space. IOW degrees as credentials for employment are becoming less and less important. And far less affordable as well.
      Certain credentials, MD's, etc. will remain important.
      Not to say that knowledge will be hurt- on the contrary it will spread like never before, and foundations for the promotion of special interests, especially the sciences will increase as well.

  17. stevenbhow

    Amazing when you consider with all the debt they end up with after college, most of these students would be better off buying a plane ticket to the US, Canada, UK, ect, and getting a f/t minimum wage job in terms of earnings and living conditions (assuming they weren't living in a expensive city or area).

    1. Luyang Han

      Well, in fact they cannot, visa, work permission, insurance... you know the reason.

    2. stevenbhow

      I'm pretty sure you are allowed to work at least p/t on a student visa, which wouldn't be easy to get, but not impossible especially if they already had a degree and could speak some English.

  18. Imightberiding

    This is really no different from comparing elite top state & provincial universities & ivy league schools to junior colleges, community colleges & private for profit & city universities in North America.

  19. Paul Gloor

    This doc is kinda depressing. Those middle grade schools are a sad but repeated story around the globe. Some teachers know what they're doing while others don't, and we still pay full price. We get a college education these days to work at McDonald's or Walmart as the colleges expand to feed voids in the job market but when the students graduate, there's only so many positions to fill.

  20. TheDanishViking

    Great documentary. Makes you appreciate living in a Western country with free access to school and university. These people are motivated and hard working and still most of them haven't got a chance.

    1. David Griffith

      Free universities? In America? I'm sure the banks dislike that idea. Stands to reason why we don't have them.

    2. xxDarkSidexx

      not free for us here in England, schools are but not university, our country prefers to pay for unemployed immigrants, not there fault I suppose when you have countries blowing the sh!t out of each other and they want a better life, or people who can't be bothered to get a job and prefer to have children so they get free housing and money form the government while us hard working middle class people pay for all that but then can't afford to go any higher as we can't pay for university, and if we get a grant then your have to pay that back for the rest of your life, even if you managed to get a PHD in rocket science your more then likely end up working in mcdonals with the never ending recession.

    3. TheDanishViking

      I understand your frustration. I like the fact that my country, Denmark, has free university for all (if you have the grades). However, my personal view is that a good education is simply no longer a guaranty that you will get a good job. In fact, personally I have stopped believing in the ruling dogma that education is somehow the answer to securing the wealth of western nations any longer. Sure in the 1960'ies and 70'iies when the economies were booming things were different. Right now China is seeing the same boom, where hundreds of millions of people are suddenly transferred from poverty into lower middle class. However, this is just a boom and it will fade out eventually. Maybe this is no comfort to you, but after all, you are probably still among the five percent riches people in the world (even if you don't have a job living in Europe).

    4. George DS

      Can I just say that there have always been immigrants in this country, Blacks, Indians, Irish and Eastern Europeans but the media have only recently bought it to the forefront as well as the issue of benefit scroungers. It's all propaganda to take the spotlight off the real parasites=government. If there are no jobs then why the hell has the government got arrangements with supermarkets and the like to get people on benefits to essentially work for free?

    5. Jacek Walker

      Exactly. Just a bit of logical thinking of what is going on around. No propagada can outshine the facts of daily life.
      I don't know whether people are blind, scared of the truth or simply don't give a flying sh*t.

    6. bringmeredwine

      It's the same situation in Canada.

  21. Paul MacLeod

    So much for the so called "Free Market" regime and it's brilliant idea of privitization. It would appear that the world over has the same Catch-22 regarding jobs and education, don't have money, can't go to school! can't go to school, wont get a job! can't get a job, wont get money! don't have money, can't go to school! Sounds like an Alice Cooper song.
    Just can't get over the fact that the Chinese higher education system is totally corrupt and Teacher Wang giving his presentation using fabricated testimonials, fake classroom pictures taken from the net, the teachers don't care and have no experience teaching or they have no idea of the subjects they are teaching. This system can't be sustainable nor can it be any good for their country long term, the only good in the short term would be the revenue generated and that only benefits those at the top of this pyramid scheme. You'd think China would be crying out for skilled labour like plumbers, joiners, electricians, construction, etc but that doesn't seem to be tha case.

    1. Luyang Han

      I fact you are wrong. The Chinese higher education system is just highly divided but still quite effective. There are top universities that enables great social mobility and indeed, graduation from these places greatly increases opportunities to success (check the former Chinese prime ministers). Tuition fee there are in fact quite low (usually bellow 10000 RMB compared to 25000 RMB mentioned in the doc) and poor students usually get state scholarship or interest-free credits during the whole study. Just on the contrary, China has great surplus of skilled labor. In fact, each year China has the largest number of graduated engineers over the world, which is a great support for fast industrialization.

      The problem, however, is that only top students have the chance. Just give some perspectives, in the province mentioned in the doc (called Hubei), to go to top universities one needs at least 550 points (750 full points) in 2012. Best universities like Beijing Univ. needs at least 600. The performance of the girl in the doc below 400, unfortunately, is quite poor. Again as an example, in 2012 the minimum points to enter any university (public) is exactly 400. Below that one can just enter vocational school.

      So how many students are good and lucky enough to go to university? Take again the situation in Hubei province. In 2012 457k students participated in the university exam, about 154k went to university, among which 33.5k to top universities. Among those failed to enter university, 181k attend vocational school. I hope these numbers can help understand the big picture.

      Now to the graduated young man in the doc. Sorry to say that but he graduated from the lowest level of universities in China. It's a new university just started in 2008. The entrance level in 2012 is just about 440 points. All these facts of course are disadvantageous for this young man in the job market. The situation would be very different for him if he were from the top universities.

      The story about the scam school and Teacher Wang, however, is quite different. There are private universities that are without any government regulation and there is 0 guarantee of any qualified education. Situation here is quite mixed, but generally the best private universities matches more or less the worst public university in China. The one with Teacher Wang is of course worst of the worst. Exact number of students enrolled in private universities is a bit uncertain, in 2012 estimated below 60k in Hubei.

      With these facts in mind, one can understood that situation in this doc is about the bottom of higher education system in China, but not higher education in general. In this part I just mention facts. Perhaps later I might share my opinions about the doc.

    2. Melissa Hagblom

      I'd like to hear them, an educated and intelligent response is always a pleasure to read.

    3. tomregit

      It seems you have first hand knowledge regarding this subject. It's difficult to fact check, but everything you say seems logical and I do not doubt your words. The ability to enter better universities being based on achievement and merit and not wealth seems like a worthwhile proposition. Thank you for your informed response.

    4. TheDanishViking

      @Luyang Han: Thank you for an interesting comment. Based on your information this documentary is actually a little misleading as it gives the wrong impression of the education system i China.

    5. ModelS

      You wrote that only those graduates from the top universities have a chance at 'great social mobility'. Your numbers indicate that about 7 percent of people from Hubei province will attend one of these universities. So 93 percent are written off before they can prove themselves. I would not use the word effective to describe this system.


    6. deonandjackie

      So would you say the demands on students are just the same on Chinese students as it is for Western students or even greater? what happens to the 122k in your society?