The Principle of Education & Authority

Education is one of the most important aspects of a young person’s life. But without the right environment, it loses value. Teaching students should be about the students, not the misuse of authority.

Education is the backbone of society, as are the students, teachers, school environment and all of the other components therefore involved. Of course, for any functioning human being, our basic needs are physiological and that means bodily processes, food and water. But mirroring the renowned model of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, right after that comes our principle of safety, in terms of residence, employment and resources, among family and morals. Education belongs in this category as education is what underpins our future, leading to our employment and our resources. Naturally, following these two steps include a sense of love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization. The hierarchy presents human needs on five levels that complement each other. The idea being that if a person adequately has all of these needs fulfilled, they have reached their peak by becoming wholly self-actualized.

Schools are the institutions of teaching and guidance, of leading young people into their lives as they grow and begin to adapt their own sense of self and belonging. It is simply naive and negligent to condense the concept of schooling, down to solely academic teachings, when schools see young children undergo crucial psychological development, youths spend so many hours of their lives there, and teenagers face the pressure of decisions that will affect their future in all kinds of ways.

Having previously entered the world of the ESL teacher in Dongguan, I feel as if I experienced a lot more in such a short time than I would elsewhere in the world in the same industry. Just a hunch. Of course, the expat teaching community in Dongguan is small, so everyone supports each other and it’s easy to hear about other teachers’ various experiences. I quickly discovered that despite the fact that private schools are typically clean, modern and well-organized, appearances may not be in line with the reality of the school’s conduct. When it came to carrying out assessments for the students, why is it that teachers were asked to purposefully grade the majority of students with A’s and the remainder with B’s?

Not only were teachers being asked to lie and forge results into some idealistic representation of what the school principal wanted the parents to see, apparently there was no shame in asking teachers to do so. And even more disturbing, was that it meant that the input from students meant absolutely nothing, because handing out A’s to students who hadn’t put the effort in was allegedly acceptable. How were the students supposed to improve over time without accurate data? And of course, making a moral decision to grade students appropriately doesn’t make a difference in the end, as the relevant authority figure ensures that those grades are altered before they are final.

Later I discovered that the issue is not uncommon here, which was disappointing. It made me question the values in the education system and of the authority figures involved.This was just the start of what was to come, in understanding what goes on behind the school gates. Of course, competition in education is fierce in China, so the levels of pressure are extreme. But this ends up reflecting on the students, ultimately. If the principles and behaviors of schooling do not reflect something similar to Maslow’s hierarchy, how can we expect the next generations to grow into respectful, autonomous, compassionate, self-actualizing people?

For example, high school students are given the opportunity to fill out anonymous feedback forms on their teachers. But it is known that for some schools, the forms are collected by the teacher being commented on, so students are too scared to write anything questionable. Often, teachers will actually tell their students what to write, depriving them of any autonomy. Another upsetting classroom behavior from teachers, is laughing when a student answers a question wrong. This can be harmful to a student’s self-esteem, as well as not setting a good example. In terms of respect and esteem, how can students develop these necessary qualities if they are not given the opportunity? How can they have safety if their environment is not emotionally comfortable? How can they transition from youth to adulthood as honest members of society, without the right role models?

Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly ways that the U.K. and other countries could improve their education systems, even by introducing some of the benefits of Chinese education, such as having more lecture-based lessons in preparation for college, further enrichment activities and perhaps a stronger sense of competitiveness—not to the extremes of China—but for this kind of outright exploitation, where will it lead generations to come?

Category Op-Ed