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Don't blame education system for one 'failure'

By Fang Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2015-04-29 07:39

People skeptical of the value of higher education have got another excuse to lash out at those arguing in favor of higher studies. And that excuse is the sensational but tragic story of 38-year-old Xiao Lan (alias) who got her PhD from a US university but was repatriated to China recently after she lost her job and became homeless.

Her story came to light through a recent media report and has created a huge public controversy. The story has been widely circulated among netizens since being uploaded on the Internet a few days ago. Many websites and online forums have chosen to post the news with such sensational headlines or terms such as "US-educated" and "PhD holder" to highlight her admirable academic background in sharp contrast to her "failure to get a job" or hold one and "being repatriated home".

Some media outlets have gone even farther, using such headlines as "A repatriated Chinese doctorate holder: I cannot do anything but study" to suggest that "people with a high academic degree are a group with high academic performance but low capabilities". Unsurprisingly, these postings and re-postings have attracted comments from many netizens.

True, such sensational headlines and terms, along with photographs showing a haggard-looking 38-year-old woman, are difficult for people to link with a PhD holder from a US university, because, in the eyes of the common man, she should have been offered a well-paying job.

However, the truth is not that dramatic.

According to the Beijing General Station Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection, Xiao Lan was suffering from some mental illness before being repatriated to China. She was found by local police in the US roving the streets with an expired visa and handed over to China's border police. The officers from the Beijing station quoted Xiao Lan as saying that, because of her good academic record, she was recommended from a junior high school in a provincial capital in northwestern China all the way to a famous university in Beijing, from where she earned her bachelors', master's and doctorate degrees.

After that, she got another recommendation for a US university scholarship program, after which she earned another doctorate degree and finished her post-doctorate research. But because of lack of the ability to deal with social relations, she lost two jobs and was reduced to a vagrant in the US, she was quoted as saying.

Xiao Lan's tragic story is only one instance of the apparent failure of a higher degree holder and by no means reflects the full picture of China's scholars. Therefore, her case should not be used as an example to back the argument, "to learn is useless" or as an excuse to criticize China's education system which, as some have said, has produced "useless intellectuals" or people with excellent academic background but with little ability to excel in interpersonal communication.

As a matter of fact, with the model of personal growth becoming increasingly diversified in China, especially because university graduates face growing difficulties in getting a suitable job, the argument that "to read is useless" has gained favor among some people.

China's education system has long been dragged by some into controversies for laying emphasis on academic performances.

But it is undeniable that the rigorous logical thinking - in particular, the basic mathematical training most Chinese students get as youngsters - plays a very important role in people's development as successful role models. In fact, the elites in many fields hold high academic degrees or have overseas educational backgrounds.

The tragic experience of Xiao Lan can be attributed to multiple factors such as her health and personal character, but definitely not China's education system.

The author is a writer with China Daily.


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