Li Xing

Should 'Harvard girl' be a role model?

By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-09 06:46
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The results of the annual college entrance examinations are in, and the media are full of success stories.

We're told that Li Taibo, a senior at Renmin University High School, obtained the highest score in science in Beijing. Li is no bookworm, according to the media, which describe him as a guy who plays the piano, loves Mozart and painting, and chairs the student union.

Li has won a national mathematics competition three times, and has twice gone to the North Pole on science expeditions. He plans to major in engineering and business management at Hong Kong University, which has offered him a full scholarship.

We've also heard about a few students who were not top scorers. The story of Yang Hang, of Liaoning province, has been widely publicized because he is only 12 and is the youngest college applicant in his province. According to his mother, Yang memorized multiplication tables before he turned two. At 3, he could add and subtract three-digit numbers and multiply two-digit numbers in his head.

These stories are familiar at this time of year, but they attract a lot of avid readers because they are written in such a way as to demonstrate to parents the best possible ways to help their children succeed.

People still remember Liu Yiting, who enrolled in Harvard University as an undergraduate with a full scholarship in 1999. Her parents wrote two accounts of Liu's success. According to the publisher, the first book, Harvard Girl Liu Yiting (2000), has sold more than two million copies, and the second, Liu Yiting's Study Methods and Training (2004), has sold nearly half a million copies.

Despite Li Taibo's success in the exams, the road to college was not easy for him. Some 30 of his schoolmates were admitted to universities in the US, but Li, who applied to Harvard and several other American schools, was turned down by all of them. As the headline on the Internet account delicately put it, the top scorer in Beijing was "rejected" by 11 top American universities.

These stories raise the question "Whom should our children emulate?"

Despite much publicity, very few parents or children take these teenage models seriously. Commenting on the books about Liu Yiting, a few netizens made it clear that not everyone is Liu Yiting, so parents should not set Liu as a role model for their children.

"We have our own thoughts and souls," one wrote.

"Not everyone must go to Harvard," another commented. "Our future belongs to us."

I think all the fuss over the top scorers on the national exam misses the point. The more important question is what leads to the best all-round education.

For decades, China's education system has been criticized as elitist. Even today, when my colleagues talk about their children, most complain that schoolteachers only care for the best and the worst. Those in the middle can only tag along.

Worse, many teachers as well as parents take academic achievement as the sole yardstick of a child's success.

Two years ago, Zhou Wu, a schoolteacher in Hangzhou, asked 2,400 parents about their children. Only four parents said they most valued children's "cooperation with others" and none considered their children's "curiosity" important.

There is more to life than test scores. The media and the education system should put more emphasis on an all-round education that produces conscientious future citizens who value teamwork, creativity, individuality and independence.