When Chinese Teachers Meet British Students

A BBC documentary shows what happens when intense Chinese instructors meet a classroom of UK teenagers accustomed to some degree of autonomy. A culture clash ensues. What China can learn from the experiment.

A Chinese teacher at Bohunt School, Hampshire, UK
A Chinese teacher at Bohunt School, Hampshire, UK
Xiong Bingqi*

BEIJING â€" There are more than a few lessons to be learned from the recently aired BBC documentary Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School, which is set at an academically rigorous secondary school in Hampshire, England, and was broadcast earlier this month in both China and the UK.

The program depicts an experiment whereby five Chinese teachers are sent to the Bohunt School and charged with a class of British teenagers. Later, the students will take math and natural sciences exams to see how they compare with students from the same school who continued with their regular British teachers.

As the documentary showed, the British teenagers had difficulty adapting to the "high-intensity learning." The Chinese teachers were equally flummoxed by the reactions of their students.

Many in China support Chinese teaching methodology, praising it as being more efficient. But others criticize it as numbing and dull, saying it fails to take into account the opinions or feelings of students, or the ways in which they learn best.

The Chinese teachers thought the Bohunt students, aged 13 and 14, were unmotivated and poorly disciplined. The school's head teacher, in turn, was skeptical about that assessment.

It's a very valuable and interesting experiment. The media has widely noted that Chinese students outperform their Western counterparts in math and science testing. Consequently, Western countries have grown increasingly curious about China's approach. The British education minister even took a delegation to visit Chinese schools to gain insight from their teaching methods.

The BBC documentary is important because it takes a straightforward look at Chinese teaching methods and how UK pupils perceive them. As such, it's an intuitive and convincing launching point for discussing whether it’s worth promoting the Chinese way of education.

Vastly different approaches

In the documentary, the Chinese teachers teach as they normally would in China while the British pupils react as they are accustomed. Their respective words and actions point to the huge differences in how education operates in the two countries.

In China, admissions testing is used at every level of the education system. Chinese pedagogy, as a result, is very focused on testing and academic performance. Teachers have absolute authority over pupils. And they have little concern for the viewpoints, personality, interests and physical or mental conditions of their students. Chinese teachers pursue a spoon-feeding style of teaching with the unique goal of raising academic performance, even if it means sacrificing the personality, free thinking and interests of their students.

Traditional British education, by contrast, attaches importance to the character and aptitude of children and takes a different approach to discipline. British schools also don't evaluate progress solely based on exam results.

Room for improvement

For British parents and pupils, the experiment offers an opportunity to consider how much they can and should care about test scores, and reassess the country's standard approach to education.

But there are also things China can learn from the documentary. In China, education policy is often driven from the top down before going through educational experiments to provide any scientific justification. In recent years, Chinese authorities have launched a series of educational reforms. Unfortunately, many of those reforms can't withstand scrutiny.

Certain policies also happen to be capricious. Two years ago, for example, one province eliminated an English-language oral comprehension component of its school entrance exam on the grounds that it was unfair to the pupils from rural areas, since they have much less chance to practice. A year later the test was reintroduced because "It's important that English teaching attaches equal importance to listening, speaking, reading and writing." A comparative experiment beforehand would have avoided such a waste of time and energy for all.

Zhu Qingshi, former president of the University of Science and Technology of China, also conducted several "experiments" during his 10-year mandate of trying to reform the university. He was initially convinced that the school's biggest problem was an underachieving faculty. So he pushed for certain internal training programs for the professors.

When that failed to yield tangible results, he concluded that Chinese professors as a whole are sub-par, so he started recruiting talent from overseas. But it turned out that teachers from abroad acted very much like the professors they were replacing â€" all they cared was conducting their own research and studies.

Time to grow freely

Only then did he realize that fundamental problem was in the system, not the teachers. As long as the issue of China's education system isn't addressed and solved, it's impossible for Chinese professors to change their focus of instant success and have the peace of mind to teach students well.

The crux of the problem with Chinese education is not that our pupils fail to master the basics or are lagging behind their peers in the advanced world. On the contrary, Chinese schools and families overemphasize academic knowledge.

Our children spend too much time studying and doing homework and are therefore prevented from developing other abilities and qualities. Such ignorance of personal aptitude means that despite China churning out many brilliant students, they are so far not so good at obtaining scientific Nobel prizes.

As a matter of fact, the educational systems of other advanced countries are more democratic, in which teachers and parents all play active roles. In addition, pupils in those countries spend less than one-third as much time in class as their Chinese peers. They take time to study but also to grow freely.

Learning makes sense only if the goal is to cultivate students with independent personalities and free thought. That's what China should learn most from the UK/Chinese class experiment.

*Xiong Bingqi is vice president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute think tank.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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