Alleged beatings, suicide attempts: Officials in China investigate private school horror

A private boarding school has been accused of shaming and beating students, excessive tests, and overcharging for food and water.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

A teenage student has accused a private boarding school of shaming and abusing students, excessive testing and treating students like “test machines”, prompting local authorities to investigate.

An official from Taocheng District Education Bureau of Hengshui, Hebei province in northern China, said they are investigating the Taocheng Middle School after a lengthy article by a student at the school went viral last week, news portal eastday.com reported.

The student, whose gender or age is not clear, said they had been suffering from depression and anxiety for about a year and has suspended their study at the school.

“There are many students with psychological problems around me... and I believe this school has played a role in it,” the student said at the beginning of the post.

The school has denied the allegations. PHOTO: Handout

The student’s social media account has been cancelled. But a screenshot of the article continues to circulate widely online.

According to the student’s post, each student is told to sign a non-disclosure agreement upon admission to the school which implies students and parents can’t divulge school matters.

The student alleged the school has overcharged for food, with prices double those outside of campus. It charges fees for drinking water and hot water. The water supply in students’ dormitories is often cut off while the tap water sometimes turns yellow.

The student said the school’s canteen has food safety issues and that meals contained worms, hair, plastic bags and steel wire and in some cases stones and small pieces of wood.

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The school has also allegedly violated the education authority’s rules by organising small-scale tests every week and large-scale ones every month and releasing the students’ scores publicly. The education authority has banned weekly or monthly tests for primary and middle schools.

The student said pictures of the top students from each test are posted on the wall of each floor of the teaching building, in an effort by the school to force students to pay attention to rankings and pressure them to compete against one another.

The whistle-blower also said it was common for teachers to beat and verbally abuse students. The student said each classroom has two surveillance cameras, but teachers would drag students to corners are hidden from view of the cameras to beat them, such as slapping their face, hitting their palms, or throwing test papers or exercise books at them.

The student said the school forbids students from using dirty words, but teachers used profanity regularly.

“What the school installed in us is that you are useless if your academic performance is poor. Teachers just repeat again and again to us that study is everything [of our life],” wrote the student.

The student also alleged that parents often showered teachers with presents, prompting teachers to treat some students favourably.

The school is said to have cheated the authorities by preparing two sets of class schedules – a real one and the other for officials inspection.

A class break is only five minutes, but students still don’t have the luxury to enjoy it because classes end later than scheduled and the following class often starts earlier than the official time.

The school requires students to sleep from 10pm to 5.30am the next day. However, many students are given homework that keeps them up well after 10pm.

“We have to sacrifice our sleep time. How can we deal with 16 hour-long studies the next day?” asked the student, who accused the school of seeking high scores and profit at the expense of the student’s welfare.

“This school not only can’t let students study happily but also can’t assure students have a healthy body. I myself am depressed and anxious, and I see many people around me sharing the same problems. Some students drank laundry liquid, while some cut their wrists to attempt suicide,” the student alleged.

In a statement, Taocheng Middle School has denied all the allegations, saying the student’s claims are false. The school has 1,000 staff and 18,000 students, charging 15,000 yuan (S$3,191) per semester.

“I hope this teenager can win the battle against greed,” wrote one user on video-sharing platform bilibili.com.

“As far as I know, there are a number of such schools across the country. Hope the authorities can save those poor young students,” another person said.

SINGAPORE HELPLINES

  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
  • Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
  • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
  • Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.