A Generation on “Steroids” by Andrew H. Chen

A Generation on “Steroids”


The Chinese Educational Trajectory: a generation dependent on short term performance enhancement

By Andrew H. Chen

Chief Learning Officer of WholeRen Group

May 2017


Yixuan Wan is a third grader in Beijing’s public school system. Yet the majority of his weeknights, weekends and holidays are spent attending private classes–all enhancing the same public school curriculum.


Like Yixuan, most Chinese students rarely escape from the strict regimen of these after school classes. In fact, a family living in the large Chinese cities (e.g. Beijing or Shanghai) typically spends about $3,000 per year on each of their children aged 3-18 years old. In smaller cities, families generally spend over $1,000 per child. Thus, when considering China’s population of 1.4 billion, it becomes clear that total spending on private classes and tutoring is quite high–with some estimates placing the private K-12 education industry’s value at $120 billion.


What exactly do the students study in these private courses? For the most part, it is the same curriculum studied during school hours. Yet students double down on Math, Chinese and English classes after school hours just to stay ahead of their peers. In doing so, they are convinced that they will improve their future educational prospects. College entrance is dependent upon getting into high school. Unlike the United States, high school entrance is not a guarantee. In fact, 50-60% of students in cities like Nanjing and Chengdu are not able to get into high school at all.


Chinese students options are limited in terms of choosing a pathway to higher education. Beginning at age three, students are pressured into getting into a good daycare which will set them up on the path to securing places at the best elementary, middle and high schools, then colleges. There are simply not enough seats at Chinese high schools and colleges, or not enough seats at the “good” schools. So, if a student cannot get into public high school, she will generally choose a technical school. Since there is not much they can do about opening up available seats at the best educational institutions, families focus upon improving their children’s performance on entrance exams–mainly via after school private tutoring.


On the other hand, public schools are barred from offering their own academic enrichment in the form of after school classes. The government mandates that all schools release their students by 3:30 pm. Furthermore, there are limits placed upon the difficulty levels of college and high school entrance exams. Despite these measures aimed at protecting students, schools and teachers are constantly evaluated by how well their students do in these same standardized tests. These institutions’ reputations are built upon their ability to boast about their high quality instructors and their student body’s test scores.


Due to these conflicting pressures, private K-12 education companies are extremely popular because they promote one thing above all–high test scores that can beat out the competition. Most often, teachers push their students to attend these private classes. Combined with pressure from teachers and the companies’ aggressive marketing campaigns, parents eagerly enroll their children into the classes that suddenly become indispensable to their futures.


Student performance is also matter of family honor in China. There is no choice but to get on board with private classes and working towards getting the highest test scores possible. In fact, if a student starts to slide or fall below the average at school, he will be singled out. Since a bad student is seen as a direct reflection of poor teaching, teachers intervene quickly, calling in families to address the student’s poor school performance. Once the family gets involved, a student must improve his results or alternatively, face the burden of having dishonored his family with poor performance and disobedience.


When faced between success and dishonor, students and families quickly turn to the promising “steroids approach” of private education companies, hoping to boost scores as soon as possible. Such short-term performance enhancement is the exact business of the K-12 after school education industry. Driven by competitive and commercial interests, these companies have established sophisticated techniques to improve test results. For example, a student is instructed to follow a curriculum one month ahead of her regular public school schedule–which helps her gain a competitive advantage, thereby inflating test scores. Many of these third party service providers are doing increasingly well in international markets, with one such provider TAL Education valued at $9.3 billion on the New York Stock Exchange.


So, why does this all matter to US educators? It comes down to assessing reality and reevaluating opportunities. As F-1 Chinese students have steadily been the largest US international student group for the past six years, it becomes imperative that US colleges and high schools understand their incoming students’ past and present motivations. Furthermore, understanding this reality can open up new opportunities for US community colleges and other university pathway programs. Not requiring SAT or high TOEFL scores, community colleges can serve as great starting points for many Chinese students who seek an alternate pathway towards four-year universities.


Ultimately, the question becomes whether or not Chinese families will have an open-minded attitude towards unranked educational institutions like community colleges. With a deeper understanding of these students’ life situations, perhaps US educators can help facilitate a new shift away from short term, steroid-like dependency towards a more sustainable approach to higher education.


Copyrights © 2017 WholeRen Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Andrew Chen











Andrew Chen

Chief Learning Officer of WholeRen Group


Andrew is an educator and advisor on International education. He is the co-founder and CEO of WholeRen Group. He has been interviewed and quoted by New York Times, VOA, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Business Insider, The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Atlantic, The Pie News, Chinadaily, CCTV and other mainstream media in both China and US.


Pittsburgh | Seattle | San Francisco | Los Angeles | Boston | New York | Washington DC | Lansing
China: Beijing | Chongqing | Chengdu  | Guangzhou


WholeRen Group

WholeRen’s maxim, “Bringing Two Great Nations Together, One Student at a Time”, captures the essence of its mission to serve the educational needs and aspirations of families and educators in the USA and China while enhancing those experiences and involving highly reputed educational organizations and individuals. This mission is predicated on meeting the needs of the individual student by utilizing the best aspects of Eastern and Western educational precepts, and making the success of the learner the highest priority.


Email: info@wholeren.com


+1 (412) 756-3137

+86 (010) 5387-5758

For more information, visit www.wholeren.com


【 野鸡大学 】美国国防部曾257人买过野鸡大学文凭!?...  野鸡大学 ,简单说就是“没有经过认证的学校”,不过用“Diploma Mill”学历工厂这个词来指代,可能更加确切。 说白了就是,不教课,只卖学位。好比方鸿渐花钱买的“克莱顿大学”学位,或者是唐骏花钱买来的“美国西太平洋大学”博士学位。...
【 美国大学博览会 】National College Fair于匹兹堡举行... 2月7日,National College Fair( 美国大学博览会 )于匹兹堡当地隆重举行。厚仁教育的钟老师,祝老师艾老师及其他几位老师有幸一同参与了其中的第一场博览会。现场人头攒动,共有来自全国的225所大学和学院的代表参与了此次的博览会。...
【 歧视 】在美国大学说什么语言——杜克大学校方就歧视中文的言论道歉... 今天,杜克大学教授因劝学生少讲中文,否则会影响就业的 歧视 言论,严重踩雷,引起了轩然大波。 杜克大学生物统计项目主任,副教授尼丽(Megan  Neely),给全系学生发了一份邮件,劝说学生不要讲中文,因为已经有两个教员表示,不会给在学生活动室里大声讲中文的两个学生实习和研究的机会。...
【 身份挂靠 】花钱留下的骗局 – 身份挂靠... 学生 身份挂靠 ,是美国特有的一个名词。 这是某些特殊的非法学校,申请了美国移民局发放学生签证单的资质,收国际学生学费,发放学生签证,而并不实际开课,光靠卖挂靠挣钱。对于学生来说,就是花钱买了留下,所以挂靠的英文叫做“pay to stay scheme”,直译就是“花钱留下的骗局”。...
【 成绩单造假 】留学黑色产业 – 假成绩单和假入学材料... 之前的上一期讲到了学历,毕业证的造假,那么既然毕业证都能当“艺术品”, 成绩单造假 当然也能。如果你一搜假成绩单,马上能找到相关产业,49美元就能开一份。看看人家这个广告写的:“Realistic Fake Transcripts ”, 真实的假成绩单。到底是真的还是假的?...