No country for teenagers

The other day I was chatting on WhatsApp with one of my younger cousins. She wanted my help checking some of her English homework. “Which year are you in?”, I asked her. “Fourth”, she said. (Fourth year of secondary school, she will be 16 this year). I started remembering my youth. Man, when are they going to invent that time machine? The last year of secondary school was ok, but nothing compared to high school (which is two years in Spain, from 16 to 18). Many people still have nightmares about their time in high school, but I had so much fun. Our class only had eleven people and we were all the weirdos studying Latin, classic Greek and Art History, so we were good friends. Our teachers were also amazing, but sometimes they made some funny mistake while speaking and we little bastards had a list with all the memorable sentences written down. I still keep that list, by the way. I am The List Keeper.

However, apart from having fun and learning in class, I also had a life outside the school, of course. That was about the time we started going out in the evenings. I wasn’t allowed to stay very late but we would go to bars and play foosball or darts, gossip and meet new people. On the weekends, parks would be full of groups of teenagers, and in the evening, you could spot many of them in bars.

I don't have many old pictures, they must be buried in some old computer. Here I was 19, on my second year in university and attending a rock festival right before the term exams, hahaha.

I don’t have many old pictures, they must be buried in some old computer. Here I was 19, on my second year in university and attending a rock festival right before the term exams.

After having this “grandma moment” remembering my youth, I suddenly realized something. I have never seen a group of teenagers out of school in China. For sure not in bars (god forbid!), but even in parks or malls. The people I see are always young couples with little kids, or middle aged people, or 20-somethings going out together. I don’t know any Chinese teenager and that is understandable, since I am over 30, our friends’ kids are still young and I don’t work as a teacher. But it is weird that I can’t recall ever seeing a group of teenagers wearing something else than their school uniform (which in China is a very ugly and oversized tracksuit).

Most Chinese schools uniforms look like this.

Most Chinese school uniforms look like this.

As you may know, Chinese youth is under a huge pressure to study hard and get good grades. Parents always want their kid to be the first in the class in every subject so they can get a place in a good high school, pass the national university entrance exam and attend a good university. You can read this BBC article to know more about it. The national university entrance exam is like a collective nightmare on the minds of Chinese (you can read about it here and here) and sometimes it feels like that only mission of Chinese school is to prepare the kids to pass this exam.

I cannot help but wonder: is it worth it? Is it worth to have a shitty childhood and adolescence, no friends, no experience about anything outside school, no time for anything except studying? If going to university guaranteed that you would automatically get a good job with a good salary, I could kind of understand it. But it does not. University graduates unemployment rates rise every year. And salaries for recent graduates are not exactly high. In most cases, going to a “good” university or to a “less good” university won’t even affect your future employment. Your career advancement will depend on your personality, your ambition, your connections… At least this has been my own experience, and of the people I know. Both in Spain and China.

So, for me, the answer is clear: not worth it at all. If I have children, and by that time the education in China is still the same, they will go to Spain to study. And have fun.

How was your life as a student? Did you study all the time or did you have time to do other things? What option would you choose for your children?