Now that I’m in Beijing I often wonder if it’s possible to build a strong educational programme in the imperial capital of guanxi. To counter guanxi, which is essentially about leveraging one’s personal network, I thought it best at Peking University High School to emphasize process over people. So we instituted a policy that to enter the International Division, students must enroll in a week-long admissions camp.
Every day students take four classes—science lab, mathematics, physical education, and English—where teachers evaluate them for ability (can they follow the class?), attitude (do they participate?), behavior (do they pay attention?), work ethic (do they do the homework?), and study habits (do they take notes?). Every night we give them a two-hour aptitude test. With the test results and teacher evaluations we can gauge their academic ability and intellectual potential.
But that’s not enough. Because the International Division is meant to be a free and open institution, it’s important to assess whether students have the self-discipline and self-control, the life skills and mental strength to thrive in the programme? So at 6am in the morning students are woken up and asked to run 2000 meters, their roms are checked every day, they’re made to copy out Milton’s Paradise Lost for an hour a day, and they’re overloaded with classes and homework.