Sit at front or we’ll ring your parents, Chinese students told

Campuses across the country tightening in-class rules, seeking to boost student engagement

November 26, 2023
Reserved seats
Source: iStock

Chinese universities have introduced tighter rules to encourage student engagement in classes, including requiring them to sit at the front of the lecture theatre, with one institution threatening to invite undergraduates’ parents to campus if their child is caught shirking.

Some critics have described the measures – introduced by institutions in provinces including Henan, Sichuan, Hunan and Jilin, according to state media – as “formalism” and “ineffective”. They fall under the title “study style construction”, a general term that describes the building of spirits, attitudes and teaching methods among students and faculty, which a number of universities have introduced as priorities in recent months.

Xinxiang Medical University in Henan province, for instance, issued a notice of institutional spot-checking from 20 November onwards, targeting class attendance and “four nos”: not bringing textbooks, not taking notes, not asking questions and not sitting at the front. Changchun University, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and Changsha University of Science and Technology are among the institutions to have announced similar measures in recent months.

Regulating students’ behaviour in the classroom is nothing new in China, but media coverage of the regulations has triggered heated debates online. One institution in Hunan reportedly said that when the first row of seats was not filled, the list of students who sat at the back would be reported to the course tutor. Moreover, if a student violated the rules for the third time, their parents would be informed or even asked to come to the classroom to accompany their child during the class.

One editorial article responded: “Students’ learning attitudes and effectiveness have no essential link with where they sit, whether they take notes, or whether they ask questions on the spot. What [lies] behind the [overwhelming] attention to the ‘engagement rates’, like how many students sit in the front row, raise their head up, or interact with the teacher, is in fact formalistic thinking.”

Student engagement has caught the attention of educational authorities in China already. Compared with traditional research-focused excellence initiatives, the newly launched Project 101 aims to engage students by improving course systems and teaching formats.

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