58 points and “Battered” education

  Why do every test and ranking bring deep anxiety and self-blame to these children who are only 10 years old?

  Last week, my 10-year-old son told me that he scored 58 points in the language test.

  58 points? ! According to the normal reaction, I will pick it up from the chair and grab the test paper from his hand to see if he really scored such a failure. But I have more dealings with Chinese schools. I know that I should not be so impulsive.

  I looked at him calmly and asked: “What is the average score of the whole class?” He replied: “46 points.” 46 points? I quickly calculated it in my heart, 58 points higher than 46 points and 12 points, it seems that it is not bad. However, before I decided to smile and pat him or to teach him severely, I needed to know another key message.

  I went on to ask: “What is the highest score in the class? What is the whole year?” He admitted slyly: “It is 75 points.”

  I thought about it, 58:75, should I accept this result? Or do you get angry with him, or take the paper first to see what?

  I asked again: “How many do you rank in class?” This time, he happily replied: “Fifth.” Fifth place! He is obviously very proud of this. This is also understandable. Although 58 points is not 75 points, even this ratio is not equivalent to 90 points in 100 points, but he is still ranked fifth among the 50 people in the class. This is very good for him, and I can accept it.

  After four years of Chinese primary education with my children, I already know that the scores are meaningful after comparison. Five days before the test, the son scored 91 points in another math test. But his ranking is only 18th, and 42th is ranked 18th. In other words, 17 children scored higher than 91 points.

  Two weeks ago, I saw a strange number in his class exercise book, 8 written in red. When the son saw it, he wanted to hide it, but my eyes rushed over. What is going on with this 8? I interrogated. He reluctantly admitted that he scored 8 points in this language quiz.

  I glared at him and asked, “Why did you only get 8 points?” He was very frustrated, holding his head in his hands and almost smashing his hair. “Because every mistake, the teacher deducted 5 points.” He then explained that 8 points is actually not very bad, because according to the teacher’s calculation method, if a child is too wrong, it may even get – 400 points.

  At the time, he looked like he might break out at any time, so I didn’t dare ask him what the lowest score is in the class. Maybe it’s -150, and of course it might be his 8 points. He seems to have been very upset, so I didn’t ask again.

  Later, I talked to some Chinese friends about these small things. A friend who graduated from college soon sighed and said: “China’s education system never ‘encourage’ children, it is a kind of ‘abuse’ education.” Another friend of high IQ who graduated from Fudan at the age of 19 is Shrugging and saying: “I don’t know why, even if Chinese students are doing well, they are not confident enough and feel that they are not good enough. You will always feel anxious and fear that you will fall off the competitive ladder.”

  Twenty-one years ago, my friend was on an advanced class in a middle school. The five people with the lowest scores were eliminated every semester. She told me that although she is very successful now, in those years, when she found out that her performance was close to being eliminated, it was really scary.

  Most of my own studies are done in the United States. The American standard is relatively simple, and the scores of primary school students are not good as long as they are not below 88-90. But now, I have to carefully measure every 8 points, 58 points and 91 points. I already understand that the absolute value of these scores does not mean that he has taken the exam or is doing well. They only make sense in the “context” – what is his number?

  However, when I saw that the children brought home one after another 50 minutes and 70 points, I can’t help but wonder: Can the primary school’s scoring system be changed? Is it a way to be more confident and controlled by a straight-forward, child-predictable progression? Why do every test and ranking bring deep anxiety and self-blame to these children who are only 10 years old?

  Even though my son’s 58 points is a decent enough score, it is 42 points worse than 100 points. The child who scored 75 points, does it really feel like a champion after returning home? Perhaps, after he got home, he was thinking: I have to learn a few more hours to get 90 points in the next exam.