Head's China visit an eye-opener

18th May 2001 at 01:00
A HIGHLY selective, fee-paying school where pupils study harder and longer to become capitalist entrepreneurs is the sort of educational Valhalla you might read about in a Tory manifesto, David Henderson writes. More myth than reality.

But John Happs, headteacher at Mainholm Academy in Ayr, discovered a quite different picture to the one he imagined when he visited Chuzhou City in central China and its No 1 Middle School as part of South Ayrshire's twinning arrangement. "The education system is very selective and, for older students, parents have to pay fees. Children start school at 7.10 in the morning and finish after 5 - although they do have much longer lunch breaks," Mr Happ said.

The school has more than 2,400 students but a primary in the same city outstripped that with 3,600. "Nearly all the classes I visited had about 60 pupils," he said.

Mr Happs added: "Chinese children see success at school as vital if they are to achieve a reasonable standard of living. Many of the children I spoke to were keen to start their own businesses. All Chinese children are now taught English from primary school onwards and many of the older students were remarkably fluent."

Concerns of parents are similar to those in Scotland - children spending too much time on computer games, bad behaviour in schools and early liaisons with the opposite sex.

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