OPINION> Chen Weihua
Different way of teaching acceptable
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-02-14 08:11

The decision of US colleges and universities to admit overseas students earlier than before has come as a relief for more than a dozen students in my daughter's middle school. They can finally bid farewell to the country's test-oriented rote and cram system.

And they don't have to spend endless hours (read: their entire senior year) doing mind-numbing tests to prepare for college entrance exams.

Next month, a significant number of students from the school will be sure of their admission in universities abroad, well before they pass-out from school.

Last fall, 80 of some 300 students in the school enrolled in universities in the US and Europe.

But some 50 younger students of Meng Mu Tang in Shanghai's Songjiang district are not as lucky. They are being forced to go through the boring and rigid system of tests and mugging-up to be called educated.

Started in 2005 by a small group of parents, Meng Mu Tang practices traditional Chinese methods to imbibe knowledge in the students, who fall in the age group of 4 and 12 years.

The students are made to study most Chinese classics, such as Confucius, via rote memorization. English, such as William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, is also taught along with math, swimming and yoga.

Parents who voluntarily sent their children to Meng Mu Tang strongly believe the traditional school provides better education than other government-run institutions.

But last week, the local Songjiang district education bureau ordered Meng Mu Tang to shut down, charging it of violating the country's Compulsory Education Law and operating without a license.

It was not the first time Meng Mu Tang was ordered to close down, even though such traditional methods of teaching are found and tolerated in almost all other municipalities.

Lv Liwei, one of the founders of Meng Mu Tang, has vowed to drag the authorities to court.

She believes the Constitution gives parents the right to educate their children at home, even though the Compulsory Education Law stipulates that all children should be sent to schools where standard curriculum is taught.

Lv's application for home schooling of her daughter was turned down Thursday by the district education bureau, on the ground that it violates the Compulsory Education Law.

Shanghai's harsh stance towards Meng Mu Tang has shocked Lv, originally an English teacher from Xiamen, Fujian province, other parents and many people in the country.

It was obvious that these parents are making rational decisions because many of them are teachers themselves. They know what kind of education is best for their children.

In fact, it is the education authorities that should explain why teachers have lost the confidence in our system of education.

While a national curriculum may be necessary, a little experiment with our much flawed school system will only help, not hurt our education.

The revival of the study of Chinese classics in the country in the last few years is a proof that people can learn so much from the huge wealth of knowledge that has been ignored for so long, especially after the devastating "cultural revolution" (1966-76).

The national curriculum should simply include more classics by Confucius and Mencius because it teaches trust, good moral standards, respect for human beings and nature, all of which are vital in building a harmonious society, but at the same time seriously lacking in today's China.

At a seminar this week on hot social issues, I cited those classics where today's concepts of scientific outlook of development, harmonious society and rule of law were all described vividly.

There is nothing wrong for children to spend more time tapping the wealth of wisdom in Chinese classics.

Mencius' mother moved three times in order to find the best place to bring up her son. This story is told from generation to generation among Chinese.

Shanghai, a city reputed for its openness and diversity, should have a place for Meng Mu Tang, named after Mencius' mother. It would be a shame for the city to make those parents move away like Mencius' mother.