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Reform-Minded China Tries to Get 'Teachers' Day' Under Control

In international news, The Economist reports that the Chinese government is cracking down on excessive gift-giving on the country's annual Teachers' Day, which was celebrated yesterday. The day has traditionally been regarded as part of the "grand competition that is education in China," with students and parents of means essentially bribing teachers with lavish gifts like iPads, designer handbags, and gift cards stocked to the tune of $160.

But as part of a government anti-corruption initiative, the Ministry of Education recently handed down a ban on gift-giving and "extravagance" in schools. As the China Daily somewhat austerly puts it:

The move is expected to curb the practice of parents giving gifts to teachers, restore people's trust in the sanctity of the education system and cleanse the campus atmosphere. It would be a shame for the education system—in fact, the nation as wholeif Teachers' Day were to become a time for parents to wrack their brains thinking about what gifts to give teachers to ensure that their children get 'special treatment' or to prevent them from being discriminated against in class.

The Economist's reporter found that the ban seems to have had a healthy effect, prompting students to come up with more modest but also perhaps more thoughtful tokens of appreciation:

The pupils at a Tianjin middle school I talked to last week were certainly on message with these simple gifts—one said she planned to make her teacher a present, because it was 'her personal effort that counted.' Others said they would give their teachers cards and flowers, and say 'Happy Teachers' Day' when they bowed to their teacher at the beginning of class. (Kids in China bow to their teacher at the beginning and end of every lesson.)

Not coincidentally, the Chinese government has even been pondering the idea of moving Teachers' Day to September 28, which is believed to be the birthday of the treasured moral philosopher Confucius.

In recent years, despite its high international rankings, China hasĀ  reportedly been in the process of reevaluating its cut-throat academic culture, with the government taking steps to lessen the role of standardized tests and increase student downtime. "The Chinese have seen enough damage done by an overemphasis on testing and academic work on creativity, innovation, and student psychological and physical well-being," Yong Zhao, the associate dean for global education at the University of Oregon, wrote in a 2013 Education Week Commentary.

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