留学申请黑幕:要不要教孩子说谎? / Are We Teaching the Kids to Lie?

留学申请黑幕:要不要教孩子说谎?

学校总是江河日下,而且历来如此。”

——威尔•罗杰斯(Will Rogers)

接受教育是必须的,但不要受学校的干扰。”

——马克•吐温(Mark Twain)

一个社会的教育体制总要在大众和领军人物的推动下,朝着更高的标准和期望发展,因为社会的未来取决于它所塑造培育出的年轻一代,包括他们将来服务、领导、发明、创新、提供就业、管理他人和抚养子女的能力。

上述两位美国著名评论家的金句说明,我们从来不乏意见领袖来炮轰当代教育无力满足社会的预期,历史上这样的例证层出不穷。

中美两国的媒体也充斥着如何改善各自教育体制的热烈讨论,有时论战还会波及太平洋两岸。

某些美国评论人士羡慕中国每年毕业的大量工科生,有时仅凭这一数字就直接蹦出“美国实力将在几十年后被蚕食殆尽”的结论。

而许多中国评论员则哀叹国内学校教育以应试为主,脱离时代,缺乏对团队合作以及创新能力的培养。这也是富裕阶层热衷赴美接受高等教育的常见理由之一。

如今,中国的在美留学生总数已居各国之首。2010年,本科毕业的中国留美学生已经达到40,000人,很快就会追平66,000人的研究生纪录。越来越多有能力的中国家庭都把孩子送到美国上中学,目的就是期望他们能够顺理成章地升入大学。

这本身是个好迹象,反映出不仅是新富阶层,就连传统家庭都极其重视子女的教育。自上世纪九十年代末起,公派留学生向自费留学生转化的速度不断加快,并稳步上升。

与此同时,出国留学也演变成一项庞大的产业,其中衍生出一些丑陋而令人不快的现象。

近日,Danwei.org(知名英文网站,报道关注中国社会、文化现状——译注)转载了一篇中国报纸《南方周末》的文章,对国内留学中介协助家长及子女获得美国大学录取资格的黑幕进行了深度报道。

有些中介公司只有申请成功才会收费,和某些律所代理伤害案只有替客户争取到赔偿才会收费的情况类似。但也有些中介充其量只是低端美国大学的“销售代理”。

除了申请人数激增以外,很多美国大学缺乏鉴别中国申请人资质的资源或专业能力,这一点也让情况雪上加霜。报道援引业内消息称,当下留学申请欺诈盛行,中国的国家形象及中国申请学生都深受其害。

南加州大学(the University of Southern California)的最新调查显示,在美就读的中国本科生有近三分之二是通过留学中介录取的。

最常见的欺骗手段就是篡改成绩单,其间家长和子女还会得到国内学校的配合,由学校在收取“管理费”的前提下出具拔高分数的虚假成绩单。

有些申请顾问在签约后甚至不允许申请人查看申请文件。申请人“被个性化”的论文、推荐信以及伪造的实习经历都由别人一手包办。某些情况下还可以为申请人提供英语好的付费“枪手”,向学校证明申请人的英语能力合乎标准。结果,多家美国大学都报告说新入学的中国留学生英文水平离课堂要求还相差很远。

据《南方周末》的文章估计,中国的留学咨询业务每年可达1亿美元,并且增长迅速。

显然,问题的根源涉及大洋两岸,要想根除还需双方共同努力。

同时,也有两个让人完全不想看到的后果。

首先,最有可能产生长期破坏影响的就是大批聪明上进的中国青年受家长和老师的教唆,以竞争白热化为借口,将撒谎和欺骗看做是争当人上人的合理方式。

其次,这一现象败坏了中国及其海外留学生的形象,即便是申请过程没有一点猫腻的学生也受到无辜牵连。

美国获得认可的学院和大学共有3,500所左右。很多中国留学顾问都按这些学校在《美国新闻和世界报道》(the U.S. News and World Report)中的年度排名收费,排名越高,收费越贵。

备受尊敬的撰稿人 Malcolm Gladstone 在今年2月14日和21日的《纽约客》杂志(The New Yorker)上发表了长篇文章,详细剖析《美国新闻和世界报道》如何在方法论上存在着严重瑕疵,偏向收费昂贵的私立大学;而包括州立和地方大学在内的很多一流学校虽然排名靠后,但课程设置和设施都很优秀。

第一步,中国家长和学生应破除对这一排名的迷信,抛开被某些寡廉鲜耻的留学顾问忽悠起来的紧张情绪。他们可以通过EducationUSA设在北京的办事处获得关于美国高教信息的免费咨询。该办事处总监对《南方周末》的记者说:“我还从没遇到过不能自己办理的家庭或学生。”

而第二步就是美中两国的教育部应启动对话进程,探讨可以改善现状并有利于双边国家、学校和家庭的解决方式。

价值和声望好比知名品牌,需要很长时间才能建立起来,但却容易毁于一旦。至于竞争白热化,这从来都不是什么新鲜事,而且短期内也不会改变。

Are We Teaching the Kids to Lie?

The schools ain’t what they used to be, and they never was.”

— Will Rogers

Education is what you must acquire without any interference from your schooling.”

— Mark Twain

A society’s education system is rightly held to high standards and expectations by its citizens and leaders, because the future depends so heavily on the qualities of the young people it shapes and develops, and their future ability to serve, lead, invent, innovate, create jobs, manage people, raise children, etc.

As the quotes above from two famous American commentators illustrate, history is filled with examples of opinion leaders with strong views about the inadequacy of contemporary education in delivering the desired results.

Media in both America and China are full of lively, heated debates about how to fix their respective education systems; and sometimes the discussion points cross the Pacific Ocean.

Some commentators in the U.S. envy China’s prodigious annual output of engineering graduates, sometimes jumping from this data point to dire conclusions about the erosion of American competitiveness in the decades to come.

Many commentators in China bemoan the outdated over-reliance on rote learning in Chinese schools, and the general absence of learning about teamwork and innovation. Among the moneyed classes, this is often cited as one reason to pursue higher studies in the U.S.

Chinese students now outnumber other foreign nationals studying on American university campuses. Undergraduates from China hit 40,000 in 2010, and are quickly gaining ranks with the 66,000 graduate students from China. More and more mainland families with the means to do so are sending their children to the U.S. for enrollment in secondary schools in anticipation of continuing on through college.

This is in itself a very good and healthy sign which reflects not only new levels of wealth but strong traditional family values which place great emphasis on the education of one’s children. The shift from government sponsored to individual sponsored overseas education gained traction in the late 1990s and has been growing steadily ever since.

At the same time, it’s developed into a big business with some ugly and undesirable aspects to it.

A recent article in China’s “Southern Weekend”, republished on Danwei.org, reported in some depth about the murky world of college application consultancies in China which offer assistance to parents and their children who are seeking admission to US universities.

Some of these companies operate on the basis that their fee is only paid when admission is obtained, a bit like law firms who only collect their fees if an injury lawsuit wins damages on behalf of their client. Some of them are also in effect “sales agents” for lower-tier US colleges.

Compounding the problem of surging application numbers is the fact that many U.S. universities lack the resources or expertise to verify the details of applicants from China. According to industry sources quoted in the article, application fraud is rife, and the image of China and Chinese student applicants has suffered.

According to a recent study done at the University of Southern California, nearly two thirds of current undergraduates from China studying in the U.S. used an application consultant to gain admission.

One of the most common fraudulent practices is transcript. alteration, in which the parents and student obtain the cooperation of their school in China to issue a false, enhanced transcript, in exchange for an “administration fee.”

Some application consultants even refuse to allow the applicant to see their application documents once the contract is signed. The applicant’s “personalized” admissions essay, letters of reference, and phoneyed internships are all taken care of.In some cases, paid stand-ins with good English skills are provided to impersonate the applicant and convince the university that the applicant’s English language capabilities are up to standard. As a result, several US universities reported newly enrolled students from China whose English language abilities were far short of what’s required in the classroom.

The “Southern Weekend” article estimated that the application consultancy business in China is in the range of a US$100 million per year industry, and growing fast.

Obviously the roots of this problem lie on both sides of the ocean, and an effective clean up will require joint efforts.

In the meantime, there are two wholly undesirable outcomes.

First and perhaps most damaging in the long run, a whole host of bright, ambitious, young Chinese people are effectively being taught by their parents and teachers at home that lying and cheating is an OK way to get ahead in life, based on the excuse that competition is white hot.

Second, this phenomenon is generating a bad reputation for China and her students heading abroad, even those who have not engaged in any monkey business in the application process.

The U.S. has some 3,500 accredited colleges and universities. Many admissions consultants in China base their fees on the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking, with higher fees charged for admission to higher ranked schools, and vice versa.

Respected author Malcolm Gladstone wrote a lengthy and detailed analysis in the February 14 and 21, 2011, issue of The New Yorker magazine, examining how the U.S. News and World Report ranking is seriously flawed in methodology; and tends to favor wealthy private universities. Many first-rate schools, including state and regional ones, are placed way down the list; but offer excellent programs and facilities.

As a first step, Chinese parents and students should break free from the obsession with this ranking, as well as having their anxieties stoked by some of the more unscrupulous application consultancies. One good source of free advice on higher education opportunities in the U.S. is EducationUSA, which has an office in Beijing. Their director told “Southern Weekend”: “I haven’t come across any family or student that couldn’t do it themselves.”

As a second step, there should be a process of dialogue begun between China’s Ministry of Education and the U.S. Department of Education on finding ways to improve this messy situation for the benefit of both countries, the schools and families involved.

Like a strong brand, values and reputation take a long time to build but a very short time to damage. And as for white hot competition, it’s nothing new, and not likely to change any time soon.


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