Key Coverage

Inside a Chinese Test-Prep Factory

The head teachers’ schedules are so grueling — 17-hour days monitoring classes of 100 to 170 students — that the school has decreed that only young, single men can fill the job. The competition to hang onto these spots is intense. Charts posted on the walls of the faculty room rank classes by cumulative test scores from week to week. Teachers whose classes finish in last place at year’s end can expect to be fired. It’s no wonder that teachers’ motivational methods can be tough. Besides rapping knuckles with rulers, students told me, some teachers pit them against one another in practice-test “death matches” — the losers must remain standing all morning. In one much-discussed case, the mother of a tardy student was forced to stand outside her son’s class for a week as punishment. For the repeat students, the teachers have a merciless mantra: “Always remember your failure!”