10-year-old boy blasts education system

By Lin Meilian Source:Global Times Published: 2013-2-16 10:23:00


Feng Shaoyi Photo: Courtesy of Feng Shaoyi
Feng Shaoyi Photo: Courtesy of Feng Shaoyi

"My dream is to live with a girl I love. It doesn't matter if I have to cut firewood or pick up scraps for a living," 10-year-old Feng Shaoyi, a middle school student in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, expressed in an online manifesto titled "Dropout application."

"School life is all about classes, homework, exams and rankings. Is there anything more than this?" he asked.

His "Dropout application," posted online in November last year, has attracted more than 7,000 comments and over 18,000 followers to his Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, adding fuel to mounting criticisms that China's education system churns out students with high test scores but little creativity or hobbies. One oft-cited case is that of Li Taibo, who received the top score on the gaokao, the national college entrance examinations, but was reportedly rejected by 11 top universities in the US in 2010.

Unique case

Despite public attention on the matter, the idea of dropping out of primary school in China is unthinkable. Children grow up with huge pressures from parents who expect them to get into a top school and stand out from their peers. Feng was the ideal student before catching nationwide attention: He'd won several academic awards, making him the pride of his hometown, and had acted in a film. He also entered middle school two years ahead of his age group.

The boy's father, Feng Yingang, eventually convinced his son not to drop out, but he told the Global Times that deep down, he gives his son his full love and support. 

"I told him that childhood education is not useless," said Feng Yingang, who has been shielding his son from most interviews, explaining that the boy is having difficulty adjusting to middle school. "You learn how to get along with others, how to get through tough times, and more importantly, how to think independently."
Voice for many

As the youngest student at his school, Feng Shaoyi says he is under a lot of pressure and is constantly judged on his academic performance.

Feng explained that the biggest reason he wanted to drop out is school-related stress: He leaves home at 6 am and finishes school at 6 pm. He laments the fact that he has no "me" time to play football or ping-pong or any other activities.

Some netizens were sympathetic to the child's pressures, calling for more understanding. Others disagreed with his wilfulness, saying he was too young to decide how to make a living. One Web user posted, "If you were my child, I would slap you across the face."

In an open letter responding to the thousands of comments, the boy wrote, "Dear all, I am not a genius and I am not stupid. I know what's best for me. Your concerns are for information only."

Though his actions have set him apart from other students, Feng Shaoyi says he simply gave voice to a universal problem in China's schools.

"Many students experience stress. I just chose to stand up and speak out," he told the Global Times. "I had to write something very extreme to catch people's attention."

After seeing his "Dropout application," his principal and teachers had a talk with him. They listened to his concerns and promised to design a less stressful schedule for him, which they plan to implement when school resumes after the Spring Festival.

Such promises haven't quieted the young student, who continues to write on his Weibo frequently, often telling stories involving his peers. In a recent post, he wrote that one of his friend's teachers asked the class to turn in an essay. His friend copied an entire entry from the book of model essays, and the teacher gave it a very poor grade, criticizing the work, though without realizing it had been copied. "If we can write an essay through copying others, what good is a teacher?"

Believing that the education system does not seem ready to make an adjustment for his son, Feng Yingang has asked that he have afternoons off from school during the coming semester. He is waiting for the administration to approve his proposal.

"Sitting in a classroom six hours every day is torture for many students. I'd rather have my son go play ping-pong or climb a mountain," he said.

The road less traveled

While millions of teens dream of success in the future, Feng Shaoyi said if a genius like him were to become Alfred Nobel or Albert Einstein, "it would spell disaster for humankind."

The boy is used to living with others' expectations. As early as age 7, he was already well known in his hometown. He won an essay contest, was invited to host TV programs and participated in a lyric-writing contest. He has even been approached by a publishing house with an offer for a book deal, which he declined.

"He is a very smart kid. He knows what he wants and goes for it," Lin Keni, editor of a Zhuhai-based education website, told the Global Times. Lin, who has known Feng for three years, laments that all the public attention has matured him so much.

"Sometimes he says things like an adult. Once he warned my boyfriend, 'You'd better marry her soon - I am growing up pretty fast,'" she said.

Lin said she also believes his father, whose career history is full of boom and bust, has a huge influence on him.

Unlike many Chinese parents who send their children to after-school classes so they don't "lose at the starting line," Feng's father lets him decide what to do in his free time.

Young Feng said he wanted to play video games, so they played together. He said he wanted to play ping-pong, so his father used the game as a way to teach him physics. He said he wanted to be an actor, and they went on a TV show together.

Feng Yingang's approach to subjects like sex and reproduction is equally refreshing when compared to other Chinese parents.

"I always tell him to be honest and direct, we can talk about literally anything," he said.

When asked what he wants his son to be in the future, Feng Yingang answered, "I want him to be a person that is needed by many people in society."

The child also has a say when it comes to the family's decision-making process. "My dad, my mom and I take a vote when we disagree. Like with dropping out of school: two vetoes," he said.

Despite the perks of having such democratic parents, this independent-minded boy recently got his mother and father to agree to give him more solitude in the home.

"I want to have my own space and 'me time,'" he said.

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