Yesterday the foreign teachers attended a meeting. I was invited to the meeting 5 minutes before it took place. In all fairness, the leader wanted to invite me the day before, like she invited the other teachers, but I wasn't home to answer my phone. Calling a day before, to a Chinese person's view of western schedules, is like calling a week early and leaving an email reminder for my outlook.
The details of the meeting were interesting. Well, I should say, the details were interesting because they didn't apply to 2 of the teachers at the meeting. This detail could have been used to avoid inviting us to the meeting, but there are less reasonable forces at work sometimes.
The teachers who had classes of 4th year senior students were instructed to not give a final examination, due to the short class time of the seniors. This semester seniors have only one month of class crammed together with their student-teaching experience. This short time is insufficient for a final examination to determine a true grade, so we were asked to grade seniors based on class work alone.
After this we were told not to let the students leave until the entire month of teaching was completed. "We don't want students wandering around the campus, it can be dangerous," the woman told us. I tried not to laugh and covered my mouth with my arm as I faked a cough. Dangerous? I had been on campus plenty of times and lived to tell the tale. In fact, I live there. Once I even petted a dog that was being walked by a friendly-looking owner. But then, that's how they get you: they look friendly and then strike when you least expect it. Perhaps it's Chinese indirect communication for, "it's against the government's policy for them not to attend class."
After this she went on to tell us how important it is for the students to pass. "If they fail one class they can make it up next semester, but if they fail two classes they can never make them up. They won't be able to get a diploma." This was interesting in itself, but I almost fell off my seat when she continued, "it's probably best to just let them pass, without a diploma it is very difficult to find a job." Students with seniors were to know that failing students would be a burden to the department and to the school. This would cause problems and problems were best avoided. Official orders: pass everyone.
This would have surprised me 10 months ago. In fact, I had heard similar stories and I was a bit surprised. No longer. In that time I have heard more unbelievable stories which are true, and I have even been the teacher monitoring a class final exam when mass cheating broke out last semester. I was told about a school administering the CET-4 (one of the federal mandated test for college students), which was being proctored by teachers at the school of students who were taking the test. Because the test wasn't proctored by outside "disinterested" observers whose goal was standardization in all respects, the teachers merely said, "No cheating," with a wink and a smile. The result? Unadulterated cheating while the students who were better in English were culturally forced to submit to their classmates' looking over their shoulders.
The problem with all of this is not so deeply rooted in Chinese culture, but a combination of culture and poverty. The aforementioned school might rarely see a student pass such an exam, which really is difficult if the cycle of poverty continues to place low quality teachers in poor areas: We see it in all societies. What am I learning from all of this? I don't know. Perhaps I'm finding out more than I should be.