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    China’s Provinces Up in Arms Over Teaching Methods

    Expansion and growing influence of militaristic high school causes friction between educators.

    A northern high school with a reputation for harsh discipline and high test scores has sparked debate as it opens its latest branch in an eastern Chinese province.

    Hengshui High School in Hebei is well-known for its military-style teaching methods and exemplary student performance on the country’s national college entrance exam, or gaokao. However, the opening of a satellite arm of the school in Jiaxing, a city south of Shanghai, has caused Fang Hongfeng, the official in charge of basic education for Zhejiang province, to speak out against the school’s teaching methods.

    “What they consider advanced education, we see as outdated,” Fang said in an interview with a local radio and television network. Officially opened on March 26, the new branch was co-established with a private education group based in Guangzhou.

    According to a report by Zhejiang News, one of the freshly painted buildings bears the slogan: “Open your eyes in the morning, and the competition begins.” In the same interview, Fang said that Hengshui’s exam-oriented education was at odds with Zhejiang’s system, which focuses on holistic teaching and all-around personal development. “They only have eyes for scores, not students,” he said.

    Zhejiang province is one of the first regions in China to pioneer reforms to the country’s rigid and hugely competitive standardized tests. This year, it will allow senior students some choice over which subject scores they wish to have included in their results on the national college entrance exam.

    In 2016, Hengshui High School was ranked as China’s top-performing institution. Last year, 139 of its students were accepted into China’s two top universities, Peking and Tsinghua — accounting for nearly half of all admitted students in the province. Students who enroll receive as much as 50,000 yuan ($7,200) in financial aid from Hengshui.

    In response to the criticism, Wang Jianyong, deputy dean of Hengshui High School in Hebei, said in an interview with the Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, that the school will “take its own course and let them talk.” Wang disagreed with the assertion that his school sees only scores and not students, adding that the school’s teaching methods are not as harsh as media have made them out to be.

    Wang stated that rather than the local government, demand from parents should decide whether a city needs the Hengshui model of education. Unlike its counterpart in Hebei, the new branch in Zhejiang will be privately run, with an annual tuition fee of 35,000 yuan. Around 400 students have already applied for the 90 places available this year.

    Previously, new branches of the strict school have opened in China’s southwestern Yunnan and eastern Anhui provinces. In Zhejiang, a school in Yueqing has shared teachers with Hengshui since 2015. “The quality of teaching and student test scores made a real breakthrough after the two schools began sharing teaching resources,” local media reported.

    According to Zhang Weigen, an official from Zhejiang’s social development office, the decision to allow Hengshui to open a branch was an effort to retain high-caliber students in the area. “Every year, we lose more than 20 percent of our excellent students to nonlocal schools,” Zhang said in an interview with Zhejiang News. “As a provincial-level economic development zone, we need quality educational resources to match the development of the zone.”

    However, it appears the school is already running into difficulties with local officials. Its orientation day has been postponed until later in the year, as the event was scheduled to take place before the annual high school entrance exam in June — a violation of provincial regulations.

    This article has been updated to clarify Fang Hongfeng’s job title.

    Correction: A previous version of this story said annual tuition for the new Hengshui High School branch in Zhejiang will be 350,000 yuan. The actual tuition fee is 35,000 yuan.


    Editor: Sarah O’Meara.

    (Header image: An interior view of Hengshui High School’s Pinghu branch in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, April 1, 2017. Yu Hang/IC)