Hengshui High School, which was founded in Hengshui, North China's Hebei Province, opens a new branch in Pinghu, East China's Zhejiang Province on April 1, 2017. Photo: IC
Huge signs on one side of the new branch of Hengshui High School in Pinghu, East China's Zhejiang Province, read "What am I doing in school? What kind of person do I want to be? How did I do today?"
The slogans seek to motivate students to succeed in the college entrance exam - the gaokao. The school does all it can to force students to fulfill their exam-passing potential, exposing them to harsh discipline and exhausting workloads.
Although China has been campaigning for better-rounded "quality education" for years, these controversial "militarized" schools have survived and even thrived.
The latest Hengshui High School is the third offshoot of the original in the city of Hengshui, North China's Hebei Province, joining branches in Southwest China's Yunnan Province and East China's Anhui Province.
Students at the Pinghu branch who get into top universities such as Tsinghua University and Peking University will be rewarded with up to 500,000 yuan ($72,487) in cash by the school.Finish homework in bed
"I got up at 5:30 am every day after hearing the whistle, and rushed to our morning run with my books," said Xie Nan, a graduate of the original Hengshui High School.
"If students are late by one minute, teachers would give us a warning or punish us by making us write a self-criticism," Xie, a native of Xingtai, Hebei, told the Global Times.
But despite this, Xie feels grateful that her parents sent her to the school as she is now at a top university.
Over 86 percent of the school's students get into top domestic universities every year according to the school's official website. In 2016 that figure reached 92 percent and Hebei's top two scorers in the arts and science portions of the gaokao were students at the school.
"I would choose to study in the school again if I had a second chance, because I used my time effectively," Xie told the Global Times.
Despite central government policy, many teachers and parents advocate this kind of "militarized" education and many schools want to have a reputation for being strict.
Hou Qide, 22, who was a student at Hengshui No.2 High School, known as the second best in the city, told the Global Times that his school was even stricter than the more famous Hengshui High School.
Breaks between classes were just 5 minutes long and students were told to spend their hour lunch break doing homework after eating.
"I used to lie on my bed and do my homework around noon, and took a short nap later," Hou said, adding that "We were not allowed to do anything but sleep in our dormitory."
Hou, now studying to be a military pilot at Tsinghua University, says he would not want to study at the school if he went back in time.
"It was bitter and their strict time management left me with no option but to study all day," Hou explained.
Tong Xiaojun, a professor at the China Youth University for Political Sciences, told the Global Times that Hengshui High School and schools like it ignore students' individual personalities and neglect their physical and psychological development.
One female student at Hengshui No.2 High School killed herself in 2014 and another did so in 2015, China Central Television reported.Competitive mindset
Hengshui High School branches are opening around the country as a consequence of the intense competition in society, said Yang Dongping, the president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.
"Hengshui High School is an outcome of frustration, as China's education system forces people to choose score-orientated education at the cost of hurting their children's physical health," Yang said.
A 50-year-old Zhejiang mother surnamed Liu, who wants to send her son to the province's Hengshui branch said that as competition is so fierce, parents have to move faster and invest more in education than others to ensure their child is successful.
"I do not want my child to lag behind others. If the school is capable of sending him to prestigious universities, I will try to help him," Liu said.
Ni Bing, an official with the Social Development Bureau of Jiaxing, which administers Pinghu, told news portal thepaper.cn that the school will improve the area more broadly.
When local education is competitive, the region will receive more talents and investment, Ni said.
However, Fang Hongfeng, an official at the provincial Department of Education slammed the school as a typical example of exam-oriented education.
"The school only cares about scores but lacks humanity, which is not suitable for our quality education in Zhejiang, which is people-oriented," Fang said, thepaper.cn reported on Sunday. "We think the school is backward. Zhejiang does not need it."Newspaper headline: School of hard knocks