Why would a school need to install suicide bars?

Last week I came across an article in the Telegraph that was disturbing.  When I first saw the headline — I thought for sure it was a joke — but sadly it is not a joke.

Here is the article headline:

“Chinese school famous for its ultra-intense teaching methods forced to install ‘anti-suicide’ bars on all balconies after two students committed suicide.”
What kind of stress would cause kids to commit suicide and how many unsuccessful attempts would it take to prompt school officials to take the drastic step of installing metal bars on the balconies?

Some background…

This is a boarding school in China with over 10,000 students.  It has a reputation for placing students into the top universities. Parents send their children to the school in Hebei Province to prepare for the life altering event they call “gaokao” or their version of the college entrance exam.  This can literally change a student’s life.Pupils at this school get up at 5:30 AM and study for 10 hours straight — YES 10 hours straight — from 5:30 AM until 10:10 PM.  All meals are finished in 15 minutes with 3 minute bathroom breaks.  This is a military style school with a sole focus on one exam.

Kids are forced to recite the oath of the school “I must succeed” repeatedly.  The school is adorned with banners that have not so inspiring sayings on them like — “key to the success of the university entrance examination is to succeed every day, every subject and every question”  After reading this article, I felt horrible for the kids that attend a school that is completely focused on one assessment.

I certainly don’t think we in the United States will ever take our obsession with testing to such an extreme.  We are not China.  However, we have moved from a system that relied heavily on curriculum requirements for a high school diploma to a system that places more weight on high stakes exams.  We have kids all across the country without high school diploma’s for failing to achieve an arbitrary score on a State Mandated Test.  These students have met all other requirements for graduation — but do not have a diploma because of High Stakes Testing.

One of the saddest examples — I have personally witnessed was a  22 -year- old mother of two who faithfully came to my high school for the administration of the Ohio Graduation Test. She had been taking this exam everytime it was offered since she left high school at  the age of 18.  For many reasons she could not pass the math portion of the five-part exam.  Her employer at the time offered a 35 cent raise if she obtained a high school diploma.  35 cents an hour for a single mom with two kids is significant.  During my tenure, she kept coming and each time she was close to passing and each time she was devastated — — she believed she was stupid because of her inability to pass an arbitrary test.  She did eventually give up — and to this day does not have a high school diploma and we all know how economically devastating that is on a lifetime of earnings.

We already see the impact of high stakes testing on districts, schools, teachers, administrators, kids, and parents who complain about the stress and emotional toll it has taken.  We now expend more energy focused on testing than any other activity.  Districts are consumed with the results of testing, the impact of testing, the planning for testing, buying curricular resources for testing, changing the school calendar for testing, buying software to manage testing, measuring teachers via testing and the list continues.  All of this kills creativity and innovation.

We have come to believe without much analysis that standardized test scores equate to educational achievement and improvement in those scores means improvement in educational achievement when thats not the case at all.  This pressure to improve scores actually limits the kinds of inferences we can make with the results.  This is often referred to as “test pollution.”  Just as we see in China — this pressure to succeed on high stakes testing can lead to all kinds of unethical behavior, cheating, blatant attempts to manipulate scores, scrubbing of data etc…. which ultimately limits the kind of inferences we can make about the results.

I would never want my children to attend a school that installs suicide bars nor do I want schools that lack creativity and innovation.  Yet even in the United States our obsession with more and more testing has inched us along the continuum — China is on the far extreme of that continuum, but we moved in that direction because of our desire to outscore them on international test.  We need to step back in this country and have a true discussion about the impact good and bad all of this has had on our educational goals and most importantly on our kids.

Click the link to read the article about the school in China:



About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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