The Chinese media has a bleak expression to describe the methods employed by some of the country’s 17 million teachers. Dama Jiaoyu literally means ‘teaching by cursing and beating’ – and reports of this pedagogical brutality appear all too frequently in the press.
The most recent example comes from a boarding school in the city of Zhoukou in central Henan province. In this case at least four boys were hospitalised after being ordered to eat rubbish as punishment for failing to empty their dormitory bin properly.
“The waste included paper, plastic packaging, fruit peel and other things from the floor,” a spokesperson for the local education department revealed.
The news quickly went viral on social media because safety at schools is a theme that taps a deep well of parental concern. Is my child being treated properly by teachers? Is the food they are being fed safe? Is my child being bullied? Is the school running track made of toxic material? Are the pupils protected from knife attacks? The list is a long one but the fear is based on a collective experience that makes educating kids one of the most stressful things that Chinese families have to deal with.
Abuse from teachers is often facilitated by a power dynamic in which families encourage their children to be blindly obedient in school. Parents themselves can feel nervous about raising issues with teachers in case it singles them and their children out as troublemakers.
Initially the boys in the trash-eating case from Zhoukou kept quiet because they thought their parents would be angry at them for not taking out the rubbish bin as the teacher had instructed. Many of the media reposts also focused on the fact that the 10 years-olds carried on eating the garbage even though the teacher who gave the order had left the room.
“It’s awful that they had no sense of self-protection,” wrote the Guangming Daily, while the Jiangqiang Evening News said it was clear the children were “already frightened” of the teacher in question.
Photos of the school show it to be an austere-looking place of unpainted concrete with metal bars on the windows.
Some families from rural areas opt to send their kids to smaller, fee-paying schools in nearby cities because the educational facilities at home are substandard or nonexistent. However, many of these schools are not as closely regulated and don’t meet the standards they promise.
The Zhoukou education department said the school at the centre of the current storm is now being “rectified”. Its two principals have been sacked and the abusive teacher has been arrested.
However that won’t allay the public’s wider concerns. “The Chinese education system is deeply unwell,” one unnerved parent wrote on weibo in response to the Zhoukou case.
In another incident in Shaanxi earlier this month a kindergarten teacher was found to be making the kids finish their lunch in the toilets if they failed to eat up in the allotted timeframe. And last month, a middle school teacher from Shandong caused a stir for standing at the school gate with a cloth and wiping girls’ faces to make sure they weren’t wearing makeup (see WiC467).
“The role of educators is to teach people and establish good merit and virtue, but in recent years there have been many cases of misconduct and even violations of the law: academic fraud, sexual assault of students, and child abuse in kindergartens… Forcing students to eat garbage has added a new case and once again tested people’s imagination,” wrote Redstar News. n
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