Educational Differences

Today in Guangzhou it was 22°C and cloudy

I was asked to speak to 2 English accounting classes (native Chinese students) about Canada. I offered to talk about personal finances in Canada but their teacher told me the students would much rather know about our education system.

I started with the birth of a child all the way up to and including university. I could write 10 pages on my day but will try to keep it short.

In Canada, having a baby in the hospital is free, as is all our health care. The students were amazed. In China, you pay.

All the students said they were raised by their grandparents, as would their own children when the time came. When I asked how their parents would know what to do with their grandchildren as they never raised their own children, the students (or the more up to date terminology “learners”) were at a lose for words.

I often find kids in high school in Ontario, Canada, kissing (necking) in the hallways. The girls giggled and stated rather negatively that in China, they are forbidden to hold hands.

I showed them graduation party photos and they were in love. China does not have graduation parties. All the girls wanted the chance to buy pretty dresses and dance with handsome boys in suits. The girls all wanted my 2 sons’ email addresses as I had used their graduation photos as examples. They asked more questions about my sons than anything else.

I tried to explain how we are inquiry based in our education system (Ontario). That understanding the “why” and self-learning were more important than dates and facts. The kids understood this, the teacher was intrigued. In China, it is all “knowledge based”, memorise, memorise and memorise some more.

I explained that I couldn’t deduct marks for a late assignment; after all, I am supposed to evaluate learning, not organizational skills. The teacher was not impressed. It was the first time in 8 months that I have seen a Chinese person show their displeasure through facial expression.

When I told them that it was illegal for me to give a grade of  “zero” (Ontario), it was like I was from Mars. I admit that even Ontarian teachers have a hard time with this. The rational makes sense but it is still hard to accept.

At the end of the second class I was presented a gift of hand made (by the students) paper roses. My own students told me that this is very time consuming and difficult. When I took photos of the roses, the camera automatically went into “flower” mode.

When I showed up to teach my 2-1/2 our afternoon class, 4 students form my morning presentation showed up to participate rather than go back to their dorm. At the end of class, a tiny girl offered to carry my school bag complete with laptop, as it was “too heavy for me” (my favourite author should be so lucky).

The students stayed with me for an extra 30 minutes as I waited for my bus explaining that they did not want to leave me alone. One of them apologized profusely for abandoning me to play her regularly scheduled badminton game. Another bought me an ice cream cone to thank me for her wonderful day.

Overall, I had a wonderful experience. I have found that Chinese students are not that much different from Canadian students and vice versa. They want to learn, be nice and enjoy going to school. They all want good grades more for their parents’ approval than for themselves.

Teaching in China has been a blast, just as it is in Canada. If anyone reading this blog has ever considered teaching abroad, go for it.








Student Dorms

Today in Guangzhou it was 10°C and overcast

Teaching oral English in China is not as easy as it seems. While I can’t get my Canadian students to shut up in class, I can’t get my Chinese students to speak up.

A four person dorm. Each person has a bed over a desk with a cupboard for clothes.

In China, the students are a mass of humanity and they move and think as a mass. Ask a classroom of Canadian students what they did last night and your whole class time is finished with tens of possibilities. Ask a classroom of Chinese students what they did last night and it takes 2 minutes. “I went to my dorm, I studied, I ate, I went to bed.” And it never changes from day to day.

One of the reasons for this is that my university campus is in the middle of nowhere and all the students live in the dormitories, which they pay rent for. They are not allowed to cook and there are only 2 places to eat on campus. The Internet is so slow hardly anyone uses it and even though the dorms are mixed, all power is turned off at 11pm. There are no student activities whatsoever. The nearest big city is over 2 hours away by mass transit. Basically, there is nothing to do other than study, sleep and be bored.

The small balcony is used to hang up hand washed clothes to dry. Someone is trying to do a quick cleanup before the teacher arrives.

One teacher I met compared the education system to a prison. The parents send their kids away to a cell in the middle of nowhere. Personally, I think they should add a “house keeping” course to the university program.

A bathroom shared by 4 young men. The crouching toilet has a shower head above it so that it can be used as a shower too.

You can call me André

Today in Shanghai it was 14°C and clear

My wife received an email one day in Canada from a young Chinese man stating that he had enjoyed her video conference in French and that he was planning to immigrate to Québec. Although he already spoke fluent English (he has a degree in Chinese/English translation and earns a living with it) he wanted to live in Québec and decided that he must learn French. Would she be willing to become email friends so that he could practice his French? Being the kind, caring person she is, Liebling said yes.

When we landed in Beijing to start our one-year adventure, André came out to greet us and practice his French. He took us to the Olympic village and I was impressed by this man’s command of the French language, not to mention his knowledge of Canadian/Québec politics and culture. We learned that André had taken a year off work to study French 8 hours a day in a private language school. It cost him a fortune yet for him it was the only option. He lived like a pauper and studied, studied, studied.

André was so determined to be successful on his immigration interview that he came to visit us in Guangzhou 5 days before his interview in Hong Kong. We spent 3 evenings together eating out so that he could practice his French. Unfortunately, we could not find a restaurant that serves poutine but found an Irish Pub and ate Tex-Mex.

Today I am very happy to say that André has been accepted to Québec. Félicitations André, we are very thrilled for you and are looking forward to continuing and strengthening our friendship for many years to come.

And if you happen to read this André, I hear Chibougamau is a wonderful place to live.


For Andrée and Neale

Today in Guangzhou it was 30°C and sunny

I immediately thought of my favourite author (over 20 children’s books, some award winners and counting) when I saw the bookseller above. Andrée is not only an accomplished author; she is a passionate promoter of literacy. I could see her thinking of how this is such a great idea for getting literature out to the masses.

Imagine if we had booksellers like this in our hometown, pedaling down streets ringing a bell. Kids running out from houses to buy books, comparing what they bought and sitting down on the sidewalk to read. No more excuses for parents not to buy their child a book. The book comes to you.I also thought of her biggest fan, Mr. Safety, thinking this guy is nuts, he is stopped in the blind corner of a 3 lane road about to get run over by a truck. He isn’t wearing a helmet and doesn’t have any lights.

China is a country of full of contradictions.

Canadian Panda

Today in Guangzhou it was 27°C and partly cloudyHat from Chengdu, Sichuan ProvinceI was invited to the English Club Halloween Party the day before the event was to be held. What to do for a costume? I went as a Panda as I had previously bought a Panda hat on vacation and had black pyjamas.

Talk about your 15 minutes of fame. It was like I was a rock star or movie celeb. People kept asking me if they could take my picture.Usually very shy, I said “why not”? You can’t go out as a Panda and not expect to be loved. As soon as a person worked up the nerve to ask me for a photo, ten more would jump in line for their photos. I am sure I had my picture taken over 100 times. Some were like 5 year old kids, standing around me with their cameras too afraid to speak. Once I asked them if they wanted a picture, they would smile an practically hop in my arms.

The 90 minute metro ride back home just as much fun. People could not believe a Panda was taking mass transit. Some were embarrassed to take a second look at what they believed cold not be happening. Even the metro security found some odd reason to investigate the area around the Panda.

Next time I need some loving, I think I will bring out my Panda pyjamas.

Halloween in China

Today in Guangzhou it was 22°C

I was invited by the English Club to their Halloween party to be held Thursday night from 7:30 to 9:30.

This would mean that our regular 45 minute trip home on the shuttle bus would change to 2-1/2 hours by car and metro, arriving at midnight instead of 7pm. What to do? I felt that as an English teacher teaching Western Culture, it was my duty to go.

Mr. Liao was ecstatic when I said yes. I asked him if I should dress up, “yes”. I asked him if others would be dressed up “yes”. I told him I didn’t want to look like a fool being the only one there in a costume, “yes”. Basically, no matter what the question, the answer was “yes”.

You guessed it. Out of approximately 200 people, I was one of five in costume. The only teacher in costume. The only panda at a Chinese Halloween party.

The party was actually a talent show. There was a stage where a magician did tricks (in Chinese), a play was performed with taped voices (in English) and a break dance group danced. There was a haunted house put on by Québec and French students.We sat at a VIP table set up at the front with nametags for 20 VIP’s yet only 6 showed up, us being 2. I was embarrassed that the English department had only 4 representatives. After all, the English club put on the party and these kids are the sole reason the English department even exists. My nametag said “Roy” and Liebling’s said “Roy’s wife”; I am beginning to love this Chinese culture more and more.

I brought apples and a pot so the kids could “bob for apples”. No one knew what it was all about. One of my students bailed me out and managed after many tries to bite an apple. The girls were much more courageous than the boys at this game.

The most surprising thing about the party was the civility of it all. No food or drinks. Every one lined up to play games and at 9:30 they actually started to pack up. The students live only 100 feet away in tiny dorms, you would think they would let loose and party.

Mr. Liao drove us to the metro station which took 45 minutes, the same time it would have taken him to drive us all the way home. We spent the next 90 minutes on the metro traveling home. There are some things in China I will never understand.

Book Store

Today in Guangzhou it was 28°C and overcast

I like to read in bed before going to sleep and needed a book. I checked out the university’s Self Assessment Centre for a book and found that I could be very well educated reading their books. They had every classic imaginable. The entire works of Shakespeare, Mark Twain and all the other classical authors. No pulp novels or best sellers.

A friend directed us to the Tiyu Xilu metro station, stating that there was a bookstore there that had an English section. It being China, our hopes were not high.

The bookstore was not a store but a market; I could just imagine how my favourite author would be ecstatic seeing it. The bookstore as our friend called it was an actual building with 5 floors of reading materials. The place was easily bigger than 10 Chapters stores put together.

The English section was not a section but a store in itself (photo below). The selection was great and best of all, the books were 20% cheaper than if I had bought them in Canada.

My China experiences have left me with a lot of questions. This experience begs the question, “Why is it that I have a great selection of English books in China when bookstores in the National Capital of a bilingual country can’t be bothered to stock books in the 2nd official language, French?”

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