I wrote about the televisual pleasure that is Chinese School a while back. It continues to be amazing and heart-warming and also shocking. The dedication of the teachers is borne from the education system which instills such a sense of hard work and virtually no play. If the hours are long for the students, they are even longer for the teachers.
Class sizes in the high school seem to be between 40 and 50 and yet bad behaviour is not a problem; it's all about conformity not rebellion. And having such high levels of poverty all around them, the students know that succeeding in school is the only way to escape a way of life where fields are still ploughed by oxen and wooden ploughs and clothes are washed in dirty polluted rivers. At the charity school which takes in 5 and 6 year old children as boarders, a few of the new cohort were found to be malnourished and one had to be sent away again as he was carrying hepatitis. The children selected for the school are the lucky ones though - they are well-fed and clothed, and learn all kinds of skills as part of their education. But their sadness at being separated from their families for weeks at a time is infectious, and it can be a real tear-jerker of a programme.
It also got me thinking: what would I prefer? The British way of doing things, where classes of over 30 are said to be overcrowded, but only because the children can be so unruly and difficult to teach, or a class of 50 compliant hard-working teenagers whose own self-control and work ethic has been moulded by the state since their earliest years? The relatively short school day of 5 hours of lessons with marking and planning and extra-curricular activities, or the Chinese school day of 14 or 15 hours, starting with communal exercises before breakfast and finishing after the school closes after 10pm every evening? Crumbling school buildings or... ah, crumbling schol buildings? An interfering government which dictates the curriculum and keeps a close eye on schools by sending in government officials and penalising poorly performing schools or... oh. Some things transcend continents.
Perhaps education only takes on its true value when it really is the only way out of poverty. And that simply isn't the case in Britain, not any more. At least, it isn't perceived to be by those who would benefit from it the most.