In this episode, I talk about what’s known as an “education factory” in China. This “education factory” is held in a rural area in the Anhui province and holds roughly 20,000 students, which is 4 times the reported local population. Why is it called an “education factory”? Let’s find out!
毛坦厂的生活大概是这样：早上 6:00 起床，6:00 早自习，7:30 早自习结束，吃早饭，8:20 上课，中午 12:00 午休，下午2:00 上课，大多数都是吃了午饭，立马回到教室随便趴一会就看书，下午 5:30 下课，然后吃晚饭，6:30 晚自习，一直到 10:30，就是做题做题做题，11:00 学校关灯，大多数同学都是下了晚自习一直看书到 11:00 熄灯再回去。
English translation (as translated by Amber Godsland)
Hello, hi everyone, I’m Kaycee.
Final year high school students in China have just finished the Gaokao (the college/university entrance examinations). The Gaokao is normally held at the end of every June, but it was delayed by a month this year due to the pandemic. The Gaokao is quite cruel: it is the only standard by which Chinese universities admit students, and the exam results determine which university you can attend.
As we know, Chinese people value education highly. Education can determine your fate, so students and parents are most nervous during the final year of high school when students sit the Gaokao. For the children of both impoverished and ordinary families, passing the exam can lead to a good university. The competition is fierce for places at top universities. Graduates are more likely to find a better job with a higher and more stable salary. Failure will likely lead to low-income manual labour.
China currently has more than 13,700 high schools, among those is a very special school in a small remote town in Anhui called “Maotanchang High School”. It could be said that Maotanchang is an “Education Factory”. Most of the students who study there come from the countryside. Some are students who failed the Gaokao.
Why call it an “Education Factory”?
Maotanchang High School is one of China’s most mysterious prep schools; a factory for strengthening the memory. It has 20,000 students, which is four times that of the local town’s population. They study day and night to prepare for the Gaokao. The majority of the school’s students come from the countryside. The Gaokao provides them with an opportunity to lead a life not just limited to fields or factories. Studying hard and attaining a high score can change a family’s fate.
China’s education system has been considered more stringent than Western countries. By looking at a Maotanchang student’s daily schedule, we can see why it is dubbed an “Education Factory”.
Life at Maotanchang looks like this: 6am: get up, 6am: self-study, 7.30am: end morning self-study and eat breakfast, 8.20am: start class, 12.00pm: break, 2.00pm: start class (most students immediately return to the classroom to read after eating lunch), 5.30pm: finish class and eat dinner, 6.30pm: self-study, until 10.30pm: practice questions, practice questions, practice questions, 11.00pm: school turns the lights off. Most students study until lights off then return to the dormitory to shower and sleep.
Most dormitories have small desk lamps so students continue studying. Students who rent flats outside study until 1am or 2am. Dormitories are twelve students to a room, with upper and lower bunks and a balcony. Everyday life follows the same cycle — the classroom, the canteen, the dormitory — with nearly no recreational activities and little contact with the outside world, they don’t even see their parents much.
The main study method is rote learning with non-stop practice questions and exams, with a continuous cycle of weekly and monthly exams. The teacher must be listened to, if not then some teachers really will hit their students.
For those of us who were born lucky, it seems like a prison instead of a factory. But the students from the countryside are studying so hard to change their own fate and the fate of their parents. They will do whatever they can to realise their dreams and attend a top university. We may consider it a “factory” or “prison”, but for those striving for their dreams it is heaven.
I hope the students who have just finished the Gaokao, especially those who attend Maotanchang, achieve great results. See you next week.