Teacher Kim Ooi writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated May 03, 2021
By Kim Ooi

Student punishment China

Standing in a corner. Writing lines. Perhaps being smacked on your hand with a ruler.

I’m sure all of us have memories of this.

Even if we were model students who never got punished ourselves, we would’ve seen or heard about some of these punishments being meted out to our classmates.

In this article, I’m going to focus on how Chinese students are punished and whether it’s different to the treatment of students in the UK, where I’m from.

How students are punished in China

I’m currently discussing the topic of education with the students in my oral English classes.

I thought it was a great opportunity to get some insights into student punishment in China, especially given the new discipline rules set out by the country’s Ministry of Education.

We discussed the various punishments currently being handed out by Chinese schools, the misdemeanors that would attract these punishments and the effect the punishments they received has had on them.

The main ones are as follows:

1. Physical exercise

Being made to do push-ups or to run around the classroom.

2. Public humiliation

Being made to:

  • Stand in front of or behind the classroom
  • Write a self-criticism speech and then read this out loud in front of the other students in the class
  • Sing a song in front of the class.

It could also involve the teacher throwing a piece of chalk at a student.

3. Punishments involving parents

Summoning parents to the school or even making the parents of an errant student teach a lesson to the whole class.

Punishment may involve the parents

A studen'ts parents may be called in as a form of punishment.

4. Writing punishments

Being made to write a hundred lines, a letter of apology, a self-criticism essay or even – I kid you not – writing a whole book by hand!

Another punishment under this category is simply to be given extra homework.

5. Deduction of a student’s score for bad behavior

In Chinese schools, a proportion of a student’s final grade is allocated to behavior.

Any infringement of class rules or bad behavior can be punished by having a certain number of points removed from a student’s class performance score.

6. Exclusions

Being sent out of the classroom, ignored by the teacher or for the most serious offences, being permanently excluded from school.

7. Being made to clean the classroom

This is a form of detention where a student is kept at school at the end of the teaching day for a period of time and given a chore to do.

Cleaning the classroom is one way of punishing students in China

Getting students to do chores is one way to punish them.

8. Physical punishment

Being hit on the palm of the hand with a ruler. This may soon be a thing of the past as China has recently banned school teachers from meting out any punishment that could cause physical or mental trauma.

How do punishments handed out in China compare to those in the UK?

In the UK, where I’m from, students can be punished in a number of ways:

  • Suspended or permanently excluded from school
  • Sent to detention
  • Made to write lines
  • Given a warning
  • Made to miss break time.

It can therefore be seen that there are a number of similarities as well as differences with regard to how students are punished in China and the UK.

Both countries use exclusions of some sort as well as making students write as forms of punishment.

However, China focuses more on disciplinary measures that involve doing chores, the deduction of exam scores, physical exercise and humiliation.

The UK, on the other hand, focuses more on giving warnings and the withdrawal of privileges.

How effective is student punishment in China?

The big question that one needs to ask when analyzing how students are punished in China is, “Do these methods work?”

Why are students punished? Is it simply to bully them into obeying a powerful tyrant or is there more to it than that?

With regard to crime, punishment has six aims according to the BBC:

  • Deterrence: An effective punishment should discourage people from committing a crime.
  • Protection: An effective punishment should protect the population from the criminal and the criminal from themselves.
  • Reformation: An effective punishment should enable the criminal to see the error of their ways and to change their behavior for the better.
  • Retribution: An effective punishment should make the criminal pay for their crime.
  • Reparation: An affective punishment should compensate the victim of the crime for the suffering that they had to endure.
  • Vindication: An effective punishment should ensure that the law is respected.

So, how many of these aims are met when students are punished in China?

I would say it’s the first three – deterrence, protection and reformation.

In a classroom setting, reparation wouldn’t be relevant because what is being punished is not a crime against a person but misbehavior that disrupts the class and prevents learning from taking place.

Chinese university class

Some disciplinary methods are more effective than others.

When I asked my students how they felt or would feel when or if they were punished, they replied that they would feel either sad or angry.

Whether the punishments are effective could also depend on how rich the student or their family is.

School punishments may be more effective on poor students who depend on a state scholarship than rich students whose parents’ wealth pretty much guarantees them a good life.

The reality of school punishments for the foreign English teacher

Before you get too carried away by what you’ve read so far, you need to be aware that not all of the punishments that I’ve listed above will be available to you as a foreign English teacher.

For instance, as a foreign university professor in China, I can’t subject my students to any form of physical punishment.

Neither can I summon my students’ parents to the campus, make my students write lines or exclude them from my class.

(You can see my blog on teaching at a Chinese university here.)

Realistically, there are only two punishments that I can inflict on my own, without approval from the university administration.

I can give a student a low daily performance score.

This is mainly used to reward the students who speak up in class. But it also consists of other elements, e.g. attendance, behavior, homework, etc.

I can also give a student a bad grade in their exams.

Chinese students care a lot about their grades because it affects everything from their scholarships to their career prospects.

My personal experiences of punishing students in China

One form of reward or punishment that I have administered in China was to assign daily performance scores to students.

In every class, the first thing I would do would be to take the attendance. Those students who answered questions or participated in the class discussion were given participation tickets.

If I caught anyone doing homework from another class, playing with their phone or sleeping in class, I would deduct points from their daily performance score.

Recently, the Daily Mail newspaper in the UK ran a story about how students at a Shanghai University had behavior points deducted from their social credit account every time they failed to get out of bed by 8am.

Several years ago, I caught a student cheating in a written exam. She had a small slip of paper with some facts written on it which she had concealed beneath her exam paper.

(You can see my blog on cheating Chinese students here.)

Student punishment China

Daily performance score deductions can be given to Chinese students.

Normally, the punishment for cheating in an exam would be a score of zero. However, the university that I worked for decided to take it further.

I was invited to attend the student’s disciplinary hearing where the Dean of the English department ordered her to write a self-criticism essay and read this out loud in front of her entire class.

So, the next time that I was due to teach her class, I gave the class a stern warning that cheating in exams does not pay. It was then my duty to summon this student to the front of the class to read her essay.

This episode was my first real experience of witnessing how students are punished in China.

At another college, the attendance was dreadful.

In my best class, about 90% of students attended class on any given week. In the worst class, this figure was as low as about 10%.

The college advised me to give a failing grade to all students with poor attendance records.

The importance of professionalism when teaching in China

Once upon a time, a foreign English teacher in China didn’t need to be qualified. All that was required was that the teacher had Caucasian features.

TEFL therefore earned a reputation as being a ‘backpacker’s profession’ and the respect that you and your subject receives in China reflects that.

Even the ability to deduct daily performance scores isn’t a sufficient deterrent. This is because students know that there is a ‘no failure’ policy in place. They know that no matter what they do, they can’t fail.

You also need to be aware that cheating in exams is rampant in China.

Believe it or not, even after you’ve issued your grades, students may be permitted to go to the department office to change their own grades on the computer system.

So, for the sake of classroom management, you need to do three things.

Firstly, turn up to class on time, sober, neatly dressed and well-prepared. Students respect a professional teacher when they see one.

Secondly, appear to be strict and serious. Show the students that you’re the kind of teacher who won’t hesitate to hit their daily performance grades if they step out of line.

Thirdly, show that you have a caring side. Proofread your students’ dissertations. Listen to them and give your advice.

Once your students are in absolutely no doubt that you mean business, only then should you ease up and show your easy-going side.       

Successful classroom management for any teacher lies in striking the right balance between using the carrot and the stick.

The more you practice, the better you’ll become at it.

I hope you liked my article on student punishment in China. You may also like the one I wrote about CELTA vs TEFL. If you haven’t taught overseas yet, it’ll help you make an important decision.

Or, if you’re a seasoned teacher, find out what it’s like teaching postgraduate university students in China.


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