The Chinese school day.
Ever since I came to China, I’ve always thought of the school day as being ridiculously long, starting around 7am and lasting until 5.30pm (winter) or even 6pm (summer). But for the first time last night I did a calculation and found that the total amount of classroom time here is six hours (nine forty-minute periods) which, as it turns out, is only an hour more than my day (six fifty-minute periods) when I was at high school.
It’s the number of periods which Chinese pupils have and the length of lunchtime which distort the length of the day. A two-hour long lunch break pushes back the start of the day to an uncivil hour and pushes forward the end to teatime. If lunch was to be shortened by an hour, the start and the end of the day could be shifted by half an hour each. That wouldn’t be a bad idea because hordes of school children wouldn’t come charging out onto the streets during the height of rush hour.
I’m not forgetting evening study either, although I wonder whether that’s used by parents as a form of babysitting. Outside the school just before the pupils exit at about 8.30pm, there’s always a line of expensive looking cars parked outside. I assume that many of them belong to officials (I needn’t call them “corrupt” because that’s their default setting) who have had tea, shagged their concubines, and have now come to take the kids home.
There are a couple of caveats, though. PE classes seem to be one chance for kids to slack off with the occasional inconvenience of a “test”. I often see more than a few of them standing around doing nothing. And if the Senior 1s can have our pointless conversation classes, that means they have at least one lesson going spare. Similarly, what class do the Senior 2s in our programme miss in order for their lesson with us to be accommodated within the school day? Or are we a free period when they’d otherwise be studying or doing homework?
Nonetheless, the Chinese school day is far too long even with a two-hour long lunch, which far from being a time to relax is just another opportunity to study; or for the dunces, to play the game which passes for basketball among Chinese school children.
[12.09.14. It can get worse. When I first came to Wuxi, the start time was the usual – horrible o’clock –, but the end of the day was fairly flexible, and for the first year at least, I’d leave school more or less after my final class for the day unless I had some planning to deal with. That changed with a fixed departure time that we managed to get pulled back to 3.40pm before it got shifted to 4.00pm. Lunchtime also got brutally shortened, which I never liked.
Because the headmaster of the main school hates us, it seems that he probably decided to enforce the contract more rigorously, which means that our day typically runs from 7.00am to 4.50pm, with only an hour for lunch. At least at my first school in China, I could go back to the dorm, but we’re in prison school for the whole day with no chance of having a lie-down.]