Study hard, or else: Chinese school parks tanks outside its entrance to ‘motivate’ pupils

High school has already courted controversy for its use of military discipline but the latest stunt takes things one step further

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 4:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 7:25pm

A Chinese high school that has already become controversial for its use of military discipline to get the best out of its pupils has decided to go one step further by stationing two tanks outside the entrance to motivate them in their studies.

The school in Handan in the northern province of Hebei bought the tanks from the People’s Liberation Army and held an inauguration ceremony during its annual open day on Tuesday, news portal Thepaper.cn reported.

Guo Hong, the school’s president, was quoted as saying that the decommissioned military vehicles have the serial numbers 985 and 211 – the same numbers given to two national plans for the country’s top universities.

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An unnamed staff member said that the tanks were intended to encourage staff and pupils to fight for a better future.

“[We] hope that each pupil and teacher will carry forward the spirit of fearlessness towards any difficulties and of making sacrifices, and fight bravely … never taking a break in studying, in fighting and in contributing,” the person said.

The Handan school is a joint venture between a real estate company in the city, and Hengshui No 1 Middle School, an institute about 200km (120 miles) away that has become known as the “Supreme School” because it has the highest number of pupils admitted to the country’s leading universities.

It has now opened more than a dozen branches across the country, but its military-style schooling and long hours of study have been frequently criticised.

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Media reports have claimed that pupils are made to study for more than 15 hours a day and are only given 15-minute meal breaks. They are also monitored by high-definition surveillance cameras in the classroom and banned from close contact with members of the opposite sex.

Last year, when it opened a new branch in the eastern province of Zhejiang, it made the national headlines after the school authority promised to award 500,000 yuan (US$76,000) to any pupil if they are accepted by Peking University or Tsinghua University, the country’s leading institutions.

But it soon triggered strong criticism among education experts and local professionals, who feared that its teaching models would set a bad example for local schools.

The criticism was so severe that the Ministry of Education later ordered a special assessment of the branch.

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While many agree that the tough schooling style is a by-product of China’s gaokao system, a make-or-break university entrance exam that is seen as putting especially intense pressure on young people, experts fear that this system is turning schools into boot camps.

In an interview with local television last year, Fang Hongfeng, a director at Zhejiang Education Bureau, publicly rejected the teaching techniques used in the Hengshui school.

“This is a typical exam-oriented case, in which grades are more important than humans,” Fang said. “They believe this is advanced but we think it’s outdated, and we don’t need it in Zhejiang.”

The school authority did not disclose how much it had spent on the tanks, a Type 69 and a Type 62, but said they had both been used by the PLA before decommissioning.