The format – five Chinese teachers join a British secondary school where they attempt to prepare students for various tests using Chinese teaching methodology – is proving to be compelling television.
Notwithstanding the inevitable ‘TV effect’ and production team almost willing them on to misbehave, the behaviour and attitude of the Brits is as embarrassing as it is worrying. Our kids come across as slovenly, rude and arrogant. If this behaviour is being encouraged or facilitated in anyway at all then all I can say is it’s pretty irresponsible.
One can only wonder what international audiences around the world will make of it all. Paper aeroplanes, mobile phones, singing, dancing and pupils going out of their way to be as obnoxious as possible, this was like the Bash Street Kids meet St Trinians. And when one considers the recent stabbing of a supply teacher by a pupil in a London school, the whole programme takes on a much more sinister aspect.
The Chinese quintet are indeed visibly stunned by what they are witnessing. In this week's episode emotions ranged from anger and frustration through to sadness.
With its emphasis on result/outcome the Chinese educational system is just about the polar opposite of British and European philosophy where process is equally as important, if not more so.
The Chinese would argue that such an insistence on gaining knowledge has propelled their country into its current pre-eminent economic position. That much is undeniably true. Some would argue however that such a system stifles creativity and inhibits individuality. Both sides of the debate have validity and as someone who regularly teaches Chinese students I have sympathy with both views.
But what struck me about the programme was not so much the students, but the parents.
Much to the displeasure of one of the Chinese teachers a male pupil brought a kettle into class, proceeded to boil it (in class) and make a cup of tea for himself. That in itself was shocking enough, but even more shocking was the reaction of the boy’s mother when told of the incident.
Far from supporting the teacher, the lady defended her son's right to boil kettles in the classroom! There was not even the slightest reprimand for the apple of her eye. Is it any wonder kids have no respect for authority when they have parents like this? It was truly astonishing to witness this woman siding with her little darling and thereby undermining the teacher.
Later in the programme the Chinese teachers held an open night for the parents. One of them tried to explain the need for discipline in class and as she did, the camera panned around a room full of disbelieving and even grimacing parents. The very idea! That somebody could even suggest disciplining their offspring seemed an outrageous thought to them. Their faces told as much.
“They want us to do their job for them!” whispered one deluded woman to her neighbour! The woman, in line with an ever increasing number of parents, seemed to believe that discipline does not come under her list of responsibilities. Nasty business discipline; it involves showing right from wrong, instilling a sense of morality and other boring things - maybe even upsetting them - heaven forfend.
Watching the incredulous looks on the faces of these parents brought to mind a couple whom I have known for several years. They have two young, high-spirited young boys. Now boys will be boys as we all know, but whatever these two do, no matter whether it’s screaming, fighting and occasionally even kicking and biting – the couple never and I mean never scold or tell their children off.
They ask politely. They ask very politely. They cajole. They persuade. And if that doesn’t work they plead: “Please Thomas put down the knife. Don’t stab daddy. There’s a good boy.”
But why? The answer is because this well-meaning couple are absolutely terrified of offending their offspring – of being seen as the bad guys. Thus they tread around their children on egg shells. And woe betide anyone else who dares to offer any advice or even minor admonishment. I swear they’d rip your throat out.
If ever evidence was required that the softly, softly approach of the 1970s and onwards has completely screwed up this nation, then the evidence is surely for all to see in Chinese School.
It’s the final episode next week and judgement day for the two methods: children taught by the Chinese method will be tested against those having been taught the British way. A no-brainer? I’m not so sure. The Chinese method might produce superb results for Chinese kids, but I’m not so sure it will work with our lot.
So far it’s been a very enjoyable series – must-see television. Ok, so it’s hardly going to be used as promotional material for UK schools and colleges, but the fact is that British education is still seen as being amongst the best in the world – that despite the BBC’s best efforts to prove otherwise.