Editor’s note: A recent BBC documentary in which five Chinese teachers were invited to teach a group of British teenagers using Chinese teaching methods has caused a stir in China and in the UK. What can Chinese and British educators learn from each other? Forum readers share their opinions and you’re welcome to add yours.
Neither the British nor the Chinese education system is perfect. They can learn from each other to produce disciplined, respectful, well educated and yet self-motivated, socially competent, creative and socially responsible students. In my course of primary and secondary schooling, I had the privilege of experiencing both systems. In my opinion, the Chinese system is excellent in learning the academic fundamentals, but not so much beyond that.
The first episode of BBC documentary series Are Our Kids Tough Enough ? Chinese School made its debut on Tuesday.[A screenshot from BBC website]
Students in China are raised to study for long hours, with great expectations and demands. Yet they have little social life and there is no encouragement for an enjoyment of lifelong learning. In the West students are taught to enjoy learning, questioning and using initiative with active learning and problem solving. They have a broad and balanced education to include social learning, but the downside is difficulties with behavior, most evident in the teenage years. The best of both systems is perhaps what is needed.
Li Aiyun, the mathematics teacher in the program, gives a lesson to his British students. [A screenshot from the BBC documentary series]
The Chinese language requires rote learning. Seems boring but it trains the mind to focus on what is important and develop concentration and good study habits. These habits benefit them even at a later age. More could be done to encourage children to express opinions about the things they encounter.
A file photo of British students doing homework in the classroom.
China needs to restructure her education system. The purpose of education is not to mold individuals to take information and process it to regurgitate in written form during examination for excellence, but rather the ability to apply knowledge gained on one’s own two feet to achieve better a outcome than their predecessors.
Chinese pupils read their textbooks in a class on the first day of their new semester at the Zhoudong Primary School in Bozhou city, east Chinas Anhui province, on Sept 1, 2011.[Photo/IC]
My overall opinion is that the West can learn a lot from China in education. I don’t know the final outcome of the Bohunt experiment. We will see in the final episodes. However, I predict that the students will fare much better on exams than those who were not taught in the environment of the experiment. Much of the reason will be that they spent more time studying.
My personal belief is that the biggest benefits of Chinese secondary education are 1. Longer hours at school. 2. Competitiveness. This is more important in China because there are so many job seekers looking for employment in a highly competitive job market. 3. Higher expectations and demands upon students. 4. More lecture-based lessons. This is great preparation for college. Effective notetaking is essential for college. 5. Team building. This too creates an intellectual environment where synergy is created in addition to developing personal attributes such as tolerance, cooperation and harmony.
Elizabeth Truss, a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, talks with a student at a middle school in Shanghai in February. Truss led a British education delegation on visits to three schools to gain insights into the city’s successful math education program. Xu Wanglin / For China Daily
TAL123 (Expat in China)
If I had a child, I think I’d consider Chinese education for part of their learning. I think that perhaps the middle school years are a good time for them to develop strong fundamental skills in math, reading, memory retention, etc., that the Chinese system teaches well. But in the more formative primary and high school years, I’d opt for an International School in China offering the IB or something similar. Children need the freedom to explore, express, inquire and understand. These are things that the Chinese system simply does not offer to anywhere near the same degree.
While it is true that we should all try to learn from each other’s strengths, no one should assume that China is not doing the same. There is a near-universal acknowledgement of the need for education reform in China, and now many schools exist which experiment with new curricula like the IB. They offer more extracurricular activities instead of more lesson time and encourage children to take more free time to learn skills, have hobbies and explore their personal interests.
In my view, the chief weakness in China’s system is the lack of room for creativity and individuality among students. Students do not become good learners, they merely become good test takers.
British pupils in a classroom at Bournville Junior School Birmingham in the UK, where they are given many leadership opportunities. [Photo/IC]
British kids should learn discipline and respect from their Chinese counterparts. We hear so much about the UK’s teenage drinking problems and teenage pregnancies. Maybe this experiment might do some good. The intelligent kids won’t need this while the delinquents on the other hand have to understand school is for study. Just going through this process might be good for them. It is after all a social experiment, having guest teachers and students going through a culture shock unless of course you want be reintroduce national service.
Pupils from the US are having chinese courses at Shanghai American School, Shanghai, China, on July 22, 2002.[Photo/IC]
Seneca (expat in China)
The one achievement of the Chinese teachers in Britain is that they got the British kids to pay more attention to the teacher. Discipline was reintroduced there. Mind you, that is nothing new. Discipline was common just 30 years ago. It’s gone out of classroom windows over the past 30 years because Western parents, beneficiaries of the Hippie revolution against the Establishment, have inculcated a much more relaxed attitude to their children. Unfortunately, today Western kids are highly problematic at school. The borderline between adulthood and youth is in flux, with stupid parents giving their children more and more slack so that teachers now are faced with undisciplined, rude and sometimes confrontational students.
Sean McNally from Britain teaches Chinese children how to learn English through paintings. Many students in China have trouble learning English and using it in their daily lives. (Photo source:Meng Zhongde / China Daily)