One class for RMB 200, a year’s worth of 48 classes for RMB 9600. These are not for students preparing to go abroad for high school, but instead cram courses training organizations are promoting to final-year kindergarten students to prepare them for interviews with top elementary schools. These classes, commonly referred to as kindergarten link classes, are a type of prep class that link kindergarten and elementary school education.
As the 2013 elementary school enrollment season is about to begin, many families in Wuhan, worried that their children might “lose at the starting line” have started to enroll their children in this type of kindergarten link class, causing their children to overdoes on elementary school knowledge. Does this type of high-priced cram session-style prep class actually help children get into top schools? Is the “kindergarten linkage” the children receive in these classes really a type of specialized training? With a list of such questions, reporters went to investigate.
Parents are perplexed
Mrs. Huang, who lives in Wuhan’s Jing’an district, has a 6 year old daughter who will start elementary school in September. She heard many elementary schools test students upon entry, and it’s not enough for the students to just rely on the knowledge they’ve acquired in kindergarten. For this reason, starting during winter vacation of this year, Mrs. Huang has taken her daughter to kindergarten link class.
“In addition to doing one-on-one practice, the teacher also provides a lot of homework, and requires parents to oversee the completion of the homework. We’re also recommended to buy some guidebooks,” said Mrs. Huang. With a revolving set of classes including English, math, and the game of go, children are left with too much to manage, and often are working until 9 in the evening before they can finish their homework.
“My child says that the teacher is extremely strict now. If there are questions that she can’t answer, the teacher acts just like it’s an elementary school, criticizing her and making her stand as punishment.” Mrs. Huang, feeling sorry for her child, once hinted to the teacher that she could perhaps assign a bit less homework, but the teacher left Mrs. Huang speechless saying, “Does your kid still want to go to a top school? What parents and kids aren’t working like crazy to get into a top school?”
Pricy RMB 1000 classes have a market
It isn’t exceptional that Mrs. Huang’s daughter can’t bear the heavy workload. In recent days, reporters went to a training center in Hankou district on Nanjing Road and saw more than 20 kindergarten students sitting in a character writing class. “In the kindergarten link class, we offer spelling and pronunciation class, arithmetic class, character writing class, and potential development class. The most popular class is spelling and pronunciation, we have three sections, and they’re all basically full.” The manager of the training class said that the youngest student was just four years old, and that there were more than ten students who were three years old and not accepted into the class since they were too young. “If they’re too young, they can’t sit still, they’ll affect the classroom environment.”
At the training center door, one of the parents named Mr. Zheng told reporters, “Our goal is to let our child face elementary school admissions interviews easily and leave a good impression with the teachers. We also hope that after he starts school, his studies will go better.” There were many parents who expressed similar views to Mr. Zheng’s in interviews.
At another training center near Jianghan Road, five children not yet of school age were in an English class. Mrs. Liu, a parent waiting outside the classroom, said that her child is in the final year of kindergarten this year, and that school will be ending soon, so she also wants to take him to the youth center to study Taekwando. “I have no way to do it. He’s going to be entering elementary school soon, and for every bit he studies, he’ll be that much more competitive.”
Reporters learned that in addition to English, this training center has set up kindergarten-level mathematics. “It’s a one-on-one class, English and math each take up an hour.” According to a staff member, their kindergarten link class is focused specifically on top schools, and everything studied it completely imitates the important aspects of the elementary school admissions tests. Fees are RMB 200 for one class, with four classes per month, or about RMB 10,000 per year.
A variety of class fees were charged by different training centers, ranging from one thousand to ten thousand RMB. Short-term courses were several thousand RMB with course length at about a month. The ten thousand RMB courses were long term, reaching a year in length.
Industry inside story: Can you really pass for RMB 10,000?
Parents test their luck, and organizations play a numbers game
Conducting undercover investigations, reporters found that some kindergarten link classes were not simply a link between kindergarten and elementary school, but actually specialized “attack” training aimed at the interviews of specific elementary schools.
Yesterday, leafing through the brochure of a training school in Hankou, a reporter found the organization had mentioned its reputation for interview passing, listing out the names of important elementary schools as within their scope. According to a staff member, a child needs only fifteen classes at a cost of RMB 15,000 to a parent, to pass the interview of a number of important elementary schools. If they don’t pass, the fee is returned. “The teachers we hire here are all from top schools, so there’s no problem at all when the students are facing the school interview questions!”
“If you want to get into a top school these days, fifteen thousand RMB isn’t going to let you pull any strings. But we have connections to the first year enrollment officers at top schools, so it’s totally guaranteed.” The individual in charge of this organization told reporters that specialized teachers from top schools would conduct a new student first year entry test-focused training, and although it was only twelve sessions long, it was a test-focused cram review, so it had a clear difference from other kindergarten link courses.
If the interview is not passed and the organization has to refund as promised, isn’t it a big loss for the organizations? In an interview, an individual familiar with the situation explained the inner workings. “The training centers are playing a numbers game. Suppose a class has ten students, at least two or three of them will get into a top school. So, the school actually does have to refund the money of the other children, but the tuitions they receive are still enough to make money.”
School’s Attitude: Don’t trust training centers; Teachers prohibited from moonlighting
Are there really some kindergarten link classes that really have “connections” with famous schools? Yesterday, reporters logged on to a well-known elementary school’s website and found on it a “student enrollment warning” that said, “Certain organizations are fraudulently using the name of the school to organize various kindergarten link classes and training classes. Regarding this, the school solemnly declares that it has never organized nor entrusted any organization with the setting up of any type of kindergarten link class or training class, and the school does not allow the teachers under its employ to participate in such classes. Parents, please be vigilant and judge carefully!” Furthermore, the Wuhan city Department of Education has expressly prohibited selective testing for elementary school enrollment, instead encouraging schools to use non-testing enrollment methods and exclude any competitive or scoring-based procedures.
“Our school absolutely prohibits teachers from taking part in such training courses, and we have not encountered such situations up to this point. Those claims are all promotional methods used by the training organizations.” An individual responsible for enrollment at the school told reporter that students register for school at the end of May, and the school organizes activities with teachers in June. The interactions between students and teachers include mainly: everyday/common sense-related, expressiveness-related, and language-related activities. “We absolutely do not test post-kindergarten knowledge-level content such as arithmetic and character recognition. These things will not appear in interactions.”
The individual in charge of enrollment stated directly that short-term cram programs are useless when it comes to the school’s interviews since the interaction between the student and teacher is in no way meant to determine the student’s depth of knowledge, but instead, to check the basic habits and current academic capabilities. “For examples, when our teachers say a word in English and ask have the student imitate the pronunciation, we are checking the student’s basic language abilities. Or we might check if a student’s observational abilities are strong, and if they can maintain concentration. None of these things can be mastered through a training course.”
Expert’s explanation: Don’t push education too early
If you want to go to a top school, shouldn’t you start the study of various subjects early? Won’t there be more academic opportunities with more studies? Zhu Zhanghua, Vice President of the Wuhan Educational Sciences Academy explained that every year, elementary schools in Wuhan will hold interview-style game activities, but that students who have already engaged in studies would not necessarily do better. At the end of the games, teachers from the schools notify parents verbally that they should not push their children’s education too early, and should not diminish their children’s interest in learning. “Lion, leopard and tiger, which of them runs the fastest? Line them up first, second, and third.” “Use the four words father, mother and me, and grandmother in a sentence.” “Can you find the rectangle, cylinder, and square?” …Zhu Zhanghua listed some of the important questions used by elementary schools in interviews. He said, “Most of the topics are just a kind of game. We use the games to check the observational and concentration abilities of the children, and we are not at all doing some abstract investigation of mathematical abilities.”
Reporters learned that when schools hold these interview activities, there are always some individuals from training organizations outside asking students about the course and topics of the interview. They then extrapolate from the topics to produce the contents for their training, inflating academic requirements at their own convenience, and even publishing guidebooks to profit. Parents who are unaware of the facts are easily tricked by the training organizations and publications, pushing their children to start studying early, and adding to the academic burden of their children.
Just spelling and pronunciation, addition and subtraction, it’s not worth the trouble
“All the kindergarten link classes focus on spelling and pronunciation and mathematics, but elementary schools conduct interviews with kindergarteners in their normal state,” said Fan Yongsui, Principal of Hubei Elementary School. “Actually, it’s more important that students are happy, friendly, and brave, and it’s not worth the trouble for students to lean addition and subtraction, spelling and pronunciation.”
So what kind of pre-study linkages do elementary schools find important? Principal Fan said, “We’ll teach students subject-based knowledge after they start school, so that’s not what we see as most important. I think the key to pre-school education is in the home, with the parents giving the child a relaxed environment. Getting the child to look forward to elementary school is most important.”
Vice Principal Zhu Zhanghua explained that in some new student play activities at the elementary school, teachers who enroll students are mostly looking to check student concentration abilities. “When a child does something he or she is interested in, the attention span will be long. The child won’t feel pressure, and the child’s academic abilities can be developed through such games. From many years of observation, we have found that some students who start English, math, and other subjects early have fewer hobbies and interests, are not as good at games and activities, and are display less cooperativeness while in groups for games.”
Zhu said that academic education should not start too early, and that parents should not be nervous if their children do not understand certain topics. Children only need studiousness, good habits, and a good amount of adaptability to have strong development potential. At the same time, parents should adjust their own attitudes, and not put their own worries and pressures onto their children.
Original publication date: 5/8/13