Latest posts by Jeremy Hachey (see all)
- Chinese and U.S. Education: Innovation Without Borders - July 21, 2017
- Jeremy’s Project - February 26, 2017
The differences between the U.S. and Chinese education systems are evident. The Chinese system is driven by a student’s need to perform on the Gaokao, a two day college entrance exam taken during the high school years. The U.S. system, on the other hand, takes a somewhat more holistic view of primary and secondary education, while still being driven by mandated assessments.
In the Chinese system, an entire family’s life builds to the moment a student takes the Gaokao. Those two days can determine the future of not only the student, but their family as well.
The stakes are higher, and realer, than anything we can imagine in the United States. My goal here is not to fixate on the obvious differences between our two systems, which is the topic of much discussion, but rather to focus on what remains the same in teaching and learning between two often competing world superpowers.
During my time spent in Beijing exploring the culture of teaching and the modern Chinese worldview, two themes became apparent. First, China is enduring a period of remarkable growth and change. Global economic shifts are turning China into arguably the most influential economy in the world, with a sphere of influence expanding quicker than that of any other country. An attitude of incredible pride and optimism pervades much of the Chinese population. Never before in modern history have the cards been set so heavily in favor of the Chinese.
A second theme is pride in traditional culture. The Middle Kingdom is a nation with a richer history than most. As one college student at Beijing’s Renmin University politely put it, the culture and history of China, with millennia to its name, goes far deeper than some countries can even imagine. No argument here. Both ideas combine to form the central tenet of Xi Jinping’s “China Dream,” the nation’s goal of looking to build a stronger future in the 21st Century, while appreciating and giving due respect to a past brimming with beloved tradition.
The same can be said for education in China. The idea behind the Gaokao system in nothing new. High stakes exams have been commonplace in China since the imperial examinations of the Tang Dynasty, when government positions were given not by birthright, but by merit through proven proficiency in a series of rigorous evaluations open to the public. Within this education system rooted in Confucian tradition, however, there is certainly an eye to the future.
As part of our Fulbright-Hays Group Project, we had the opportunity to interact with many Chinese educators, visit different schools, and interact with students.
Some of the most eye-opening interactions we had were with leading figure in Chinese, and global, education reform, Jiang Xueqing. Jiang is an advocate for incorporating creativity and project based learning in Chinese education, and he has had success doing so.
With the goal of preparing students for the global workforce, Jiang works as a consultant helping Chinese schools to incorporate more student-centered learning into existing curriculum. One project Jiang spoke of to meet those goals was the creation of a student-led coffee shop on school grounds open to the public. The project not only gave students real work experience, but gave high school students the opportunity to design the physical shop, make real managerial decisions, and run a profitable business. Obvious setbacks aside, the project was wildly successful, and has been adopted at schools throughout China as a model for entrepreneurial STEAM based learning, two concepts that all U.S. educators truly appreciate for their real world value, as well as the difficulty of successful implementation.
That idea is not foreign to U.S. teaching. In fact, my own school, West York Area Middle School in York, Pennsylvania, recently adopted a similar student-led coffee shop model – the Bulldog Brew – led by a progressive minded colleague. Creativity in education is a global pursuit.
The hardships that face teachers in the United States are not absent from Chinese education. The difficulties teachers often face motivating students became clear when speaking to an English as a Second Language teacher at Beijing YuYuanTan High School. “Learning English is difficult,” she told a group of us. “Students do not want to learn the grammar rules needed to write and speak English.” As a middle school English teacher myself, I certainly empathized with this teacher’s plight, which must be greater than mine. The vast majority of my students are native English speakers, which cannot be said for her student population. How did this teacher overcome this obstacle? “I tailor my teaching to their needs,” she said. She went on to describe her use of formative assessment, but more interestingly, she described her use of differentiation, a driving force in current U.S. pedagogy. She described getting to know her students, and using their interests in assignments as a way of engaging them in their learning, as well as developing different learning tasks for groups of students based on their learning styles.
Although it may be a far reach to say that both of these individuals are the norm in the Chinese education system, they do reflect a cultural shift of preparing students to be successful in the future, looking beyond the daunting Gaokao to what is needed for success in the 21st Century.
One final similarity became clear through our dialogue with educators, and our interactions with Chinese students – teachers that really do care, and students that really do want to learn. Perhaps the highlight of my time spent exploring the Chinese education system was the opportunity to work with a small group of students at a middle school in Yuxian, Hebei Province. After an hour-long roundtable discussion of pedagogical differences with teachers at the school, we American teachers were each brought to a classroom where we would work with Chinese students for a 40 minute period.
What stuck out to me the most from my time playing English-Chinese Simon Says and other basic language-learning activities was the eagerness and the joy with which the students participated. Their eagerness to learn and grow, to understand the directions I was floundering so obviously to give them, and to interact with someone so culturally separated from what they knew, astounded me. I will forever have a place in my heart for my students in Yuxian.
Yes, China and the United States are different. Politically, we stand divided. Culturally, some differences are there as well. But we both strive to prepare our next generation for their future as best that we can. Like teachers passionate about bettering their craft for the sake of their students, like those students who possess an innate desire to learn and to grow, innovations in the art of teaching truly know no borders.