In Chinese secondary schools, a theory called “Neijuan,” also called involution, has gained significant traction, fundamentally reshaping the landscape of academic rigor.
This paradigm challenges the prevailing notion that intense competition in contemporary workplaces generates substantial rewards, suggesting instead that it often results in diminishing returns and counterproductive outcomes.
Across mainland China, this ideology has deeply influenced the educational sphere.
One method used is the “heads-up rate,” which measures students’ concentration based on their reactions to unexpected noises in the classroom.
The “heads-up rate” has sparked debates among students, educators, and experts.
Wang Yimei, a student from Hebei, shared a troubling experience when her school implemented this rule. Standing from dawn to dusk all day was the punishment for students who looked up during disruptions.
Some argue that this strict practice goes against human instincts that make us attentive to sudden noises. A student pointed out the danger of training oneself to ignore such stimuli, even in potentially risky situations.
This concern has merit, as illustrated by events like the 2016 arson attack on a secondary school in Shandong province, where students hesitated to escape due to fear of breaking the “heads-up rate” rule.
Education vs. employment
In the midst of these debates and the influence of Neijuan, China faces a dilemma: an increasing number of graduates compared to available jobs. Goldman Sachs reported a more than 20 percent rise in graduates majoring in sports and education in the past three years, while job demand in these fields decreased.
Youth unemployment is a significant issue, especially among those aged 16 to 24. Recent data reveals a concerning trend, with the government withholding youth unemployment numbers after reaching a record high of 21.3 percent in June.
In a society where attending a prestigious university is closely tied to securing a successful future, this “education-first” approach has led to strict academic routines and military-like precision.
Students share their challenges and successes, recognizing how their school experiences shape their mindset.
Despite the pressure and competition, some students envision a future where they can break free from conditioned behaviors.
A student said, “Undoubtedly, the effects of the school have left a deep mark,” However, life is long. Although I’m still badly affected after graduating from secondary school many years ago, I firmly believe that one day I can overcome this, and I wish the same for all of you.”
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