Traditional school gets short shrift from authorities

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A school that uses the ancient Chinese style of teaching focused on recitation of classics has been branded illegal by the country's top education authority.

A senior official from the Ministry of Education warned on Wednesday that Meng Mu Tang, a private, full-time "Sishu" in Shanghai that uses traditional Chinese teaching methods as an alternative to regular primary schooling, is running against China's newly revised Law on Compulsory Education.

"It's illegal to send children to full-time Sishu as the law clearly spells out that Chinese children have to enter State-approved schools to receive compulsory education at the age of 6," Zhang Wen, deputy director of the ministry's legislative affairs office, said at a symposium in Shanghai.

As a full-time Sishu, Meng Mu Tang has not applied for a license from the local educational authority, and the school's teaching methods and curriculum also contravene the law, she said.

The school was set up last year and named after the mother of ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius. It did not receive public attention until media reports last month.

The school has 12 students, mainly from Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Shanghai, according to the school's founder and teacher Lu Liwei.

The students, aged between 4 and 12, study Chinese by reciting Confucian classics such as the Book of Changes (Yi Jing) and the Analects (Lunyu), and learn English by reciting William Shakespeare's works including A Midsummer Night's Dream and the Sonnets.

Students also watch TV plays such as "the Romance of the Three Kingdoms" to get a better understanding of ancient culture. Mathematics is also taught at the school, but is given a low position on the curriculum.

In response to criticism, Lu said that her school is a private family academy, not a full-time school.

She said students in her academy are all regarded as "bad students" in regular schools, because they do not fit into the exam-orientated education system. "We only want to provide them with a different education and promote our traditional culture," she said.

Lu said each student's annual tuition of 30,000 yuan (US$3,750) was just enough to cover costs, as the academy is a boarding school.

Jin Shizhen, 9, one of the first students to be enrolled in the school, said he had made good progress in the academy. "It was boring in my previous school," he said. "Here, I learnt how to recite Yi Jing in four months."

Shanghai Municipal Education Commission ordered the school to shut down last month. But the school made an announcement early this month on behalf of all children's parents saying it would apply for an administrative reconsideration and sue the commission for depriving children of their right to receive education at home.

The strong official opposition has become an issue of public debate. Scholars argue that instead of being offered just one way of education, parents should have a range of educational options so that they can choose the most appropriate one for their children.

Others also question the school's curriculum and teaching methods, saying they might be detrimental to the child's development in today's society.

(China Daily 08/25/2006 page2)

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