Education in China
Image Credit: Carol Schaffer

Education in China


Following is the first in a weekly series on education in China by Jiang Xueqin, an administrator in a public progressive high school in China who specializes in education reform.

Everyone knows that the Chinese people are industrious and hardworking. So what if I were to say that Chinese workers are sloppy and careless? Everyone knows that Chinese students study hard and love knowledge. So what if I were to say Chinese students are lazy and anti-intellectual? Everyone knows that Chinese are logical and rational. So what if I were to say that Chinese are too emotional in their writing, and resort to demagoguery in their debating? Everyone knows that Chinese are conformist and obedient. So what if I were to say that Chinese are too individualistic and incapable of co-operation? Everyone knows that China’s economy is roaring, and China has engaged the world. So what if I were to say that China’s education system is hurting China’s economy and internationalization?

And what if I were to say that China’s much vaunted education system is actually making Chinese students stupid? Most people would think I was either strange or ignorant. But here’s an undeniable fact about life in China today: multinationals and Chinese entrepreneurs complain they can’t staff their operations, yet more than half of this year’s Chinese university graduates cannot find work.

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In my experience, China is a land of contradictions and paradoxes, and my life is also one of contradictions and paradoxes. I grew up poor in Toronto, studied English at Yale College, reported on China’s poor for US media, and now educate the children of China’s elite.

In September 2008, Shenzhen Middle School, China’s most progressive public high school, hired me to establish a program for Chinese students who plan to enrol as undergraduates in US colleges and universities. I was formerly an English teacher in Beijing, formerly the China correspondent for the Washington-based Chronicle of Higher Education, and once made a documentary on minority schoolchildren called ‘Children of Blessing.’ But my main qualification, China being China, was that I was good friends with Wang Zheng, Principal of Shenzhen Middle School.

In my two years as international curriculum director I’ve learned a lot about East and West. I don’t want to suggest my perspective is the best or even an accurate one on China. But it’s a strange and interesting one. Every second of my life I struggle with the chaos and conflicts of East meeting West. I have a Chinese staff happy with taking orders and an US faculty determined to participate in decision-making. Our goal is to prepare Chinese students reared in a stifling and conformist, test-oriented and results-focused school for the open and free, diverse and individualistic culture of the US college campus. I thought that teaching English would be enough, but we’ve discovered that Chinese students need to learn a new culture, a new worldview, and a new attitude. I think and act like an American, but because I speak and look Chinese my superiors treat me like a Chinese–and that creates all sorts of chaos and confusion.

In this new blog I’d like to share my experiences and observations about China’s schools, and hope I can provide new insight to the countless number of Western businessmen, diplomats, journalists, scholars, and educators scratching their heads over China. I plan to discuss how China’s education system ignores process, which explains why Chinese students don’t put their name on their homework and also why Chinese professionals write such lame reports. I’d like to talk about China’s failure to focus on co-operation skills, and how that translates into psychological problems later in life. And I’ll also write about how China’s educators ignore developing communication skills, and how that hinders China’s ability to interface with the world.

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