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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V

The love for copy-paste of Chinese students...

This time an entry about my teaching experiences in China. Although I still really enjoy it very much, there are times that my students frustrate the hell out of me!! The main two skills many of them lack are: 1) Participation, and 2) Creativity.
Even though they all know that 20% of their final grade will be determined by how well they participate in class, it doesn't seem to have an effect on them. Which, I think, is strange because most of them are very keen on high grades. However this kind of behavior can be explained relatively easily by looking at cultural differences. Asian countries score high on collectivism, so being the one that actually participates and doesn't stare into space is regarded as not done since it makes you stand out of the group. This is entirely contrary to what I was used to at Maastricht University, where it was harder to get students to finally shut up than to make them talk... Luckily for me there are a few students in every class that don't care about this cultural habit, but do ask and answer questions :-)

It is harder to find an obvious reason for the lack of creativity, but we (the foreign teachers in Kunming) were still able to come up with one: The educational system! Chinese teachers teach as little dictators; they stand/sit in front of class and shout out the stuff the students have to know. They eagerly write down what they hear, since the exam will just ask them to write down exact copies of what the teacher said in class. There is no reason to question what the teacher says or to use it in a practical or creative way, since they will not be tested on it. My classes are different and my most common reactions on a student's answer are: "Okay, that is what is in your notes, but WHY is that what happens?", and "Can you explain your answer?". And then there usually is a long silence or they look surprised to their neighbour in the hope that (s)he knows...
This week I received homework from my students and while grading the first six of them I found that five of them simply copy-pasted complete answers from the Internet. They didn't even take the effort to change the font to make it seem that they did it themselves. Just plain plagiarism and no thinking at all. Frustrating, especially since I warned them beforehand not to copy things directly, but to describe things in their own words.

A topic that my students have very strong feelings about is the Chinese government. They all love China and believe that, no matter what, China will be the new superpower on this planet. Of course there is a very reasonable chance this will happen, but I just cannot believe how indoctrinated their minds are with the "fact" that everything the Chinese government does is great. Simple example: There is a shortage of electricity in China and one of the government policies to deal with this problem is to cut off power supply during the nights in certain cities/districts. According to some of my (economics) students this causes the demand curve to shift, since people want less power... To my knowledge these measures creates limited supply (and thus a vertical supply curve), but of course I can be wrong... I think it is great that the opinions of me and my students differ sometimes because it is a good reason to start a nice discussion. However they really seem to feel offended when I make statements that I think that not everything the government does is good. I, for example, do not believe in any positive effects of the Golden Shield Project (a.k.a. The Great Firewall)...

Oh well, this is just one of the many big differences between the Netherlands and China. When you learn to accept them, life here is very enjoyable!!! To end with, two more funny pictures from our Halloween Pub Crawl (also because I didn't take any new pictures and posts without pictures are so boring...)!

Meester Rudolf

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