Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chinese Students Question Rigorous Education System

By: Caleigh Bourgeois
Produced & Edited by: Sandhya Kambhampati 

  Despite having a successful merchandising job, Chinese college graduate Nancy Xu said she still does not know what her dreams are.
  “I still do not know what I am interested in and what I want to do,” Xu said.
  Similarly, Helen Yong, senior at Shandong Normal University, decided she wanted to switch her major from math to English two years ago, but was prohibited to do so by her school. She now will have to attend graduate school for English to pursue her newfound dreams.
  “I thought I wanted to be a math teacher when I was in high school, but I changed my mind,” Yong said.
Exams in the U.S. differ from Chinese entrance exams.
Photo via Flickr

High Test Scores in China

 Based on exam performance alone, Chinese classrooms are the most successful in the world. Chinese students have repeatedly scored highest on the Program for International Student Assessment
  On the 2009 PISA test, U.S. students were ranked in the twenties for almost every subject.
  Despite China’s ability to produce students with exceptionally high scores, some pupils and educators in China say there is something missing – room for creativity.
  Shujuan Yuan is one of them. She is currently visiting Ohio University to conduct research for the linguistics department. Yuan said that while Chinese students perform well on exams, the test-based learning style could be damaging.
  “We talk a lot about, why more Chinese people within Mainland China can’t win the Nobel Prize,” Yuan said. “We attribute this to the educational system, because we don’t encourage creativity.”
  In a situation almost unimaginable for most U.S. students, Yuan’s son has been studying chemical engineering at a Chinese university, but has yet to conduct a lab experiment. Instead, the professor describes what chemical reactions would look like in practice.
  “You don’t have the real thing and put them together and see for yourself,” Yuan said.

The Pressure on Exams 

  Chinese and schools in the U.S. differ in numerous ways. Chinese students are tested rigorously beginning at age six. Curriculum consists of memorization of facts in order for students to score well on national exams. Students are not encouraged to question their teachers.
Chinese students are tested rigorously beginning at six-years-old.
Photo via British Council
  High school students are typically split up into different classrooms based on ability, which is determined by test scores. Therefore, many students base their self-worth on their scores.
  Examination is almost always the only method used to evaluate students. Most Chinese universities base their admissions criteria entirely on test results, in contrast to U.S. universities that also look at extracurricular activities and essays.
  Chinese high school students take the National Exam, similar to the ACT or SAT, to determine university acceptance. The pressure is so high that failure sometimes drives students to fatal measures.
  Xu Cheng, an accounting major at Chongqin Technology and Business University, said he has witnessed his peers fall into deep depression after receiving poor exam scores.
  “There are many students with mental health problems, and there will be many students who commit suicide every year in the university entrance exam after losing,” Cheng said.
  Some high-achieving Chinese learners say they wish they could switch places with U.S. students.
  Becky Xinrui, a senior at Capital University of Economics and Business, wants more freedom within her education.
  She described U.S. students as, “freely, with many choices,” and said she thinks the U.S. education system is better.
  However some Chinese students are content, and think American classrooms lack challenges.
  Pan Xuli, a material science major at Tongji University, said she thinks American schools are too simple.
  “We think American classes are very easy, especially your math, and you don't have too much pressure,” Xuli said.
  On the 2009 PISA test, students in Shanghai ranked highest in mathematics, with an above average score of 600. By comparison, American students had a below average score of 487.

Respect for Chinese Professors

  The differences between Chinese and American pupils extend beyond curriculum. 
  Dr. Raymond Witte is an Educational Psychology professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Having traveled to China to research education, he has seen major behavioral differences between Chinese and U.S. students.
  “I probably was never treated better than when I was in China, and I mean that,” Witte said. “An extreme level of respect is provided to educators, which I don’t think that would be reflected quite as much over here.”
  Yuan has also worked as a professor in both the United States and China, and said she feels there are drawbacks to both education systems. She and her fellow Chinese instructors question U.S. methods as well as their own.
  “We very often talk about how the American teachers, they praise their students too much, but we criticize them too much,” she said.
  Witte admits that while Chinese students appear smarter, the U.S. system trains its students with intangible abilities. While respect for educators is demanded from Chinese students, Witte said unquestioned authority hinders learning.
  “I think, because American students ask questions, we might create a different kind of thinker, someone who feels comfortable in challenging what they know,” he said.

Motivation for the Future

  Yingchi Wei transferred from a university in China to Ohio University two years ago. She said U.S. university students are more positive and motivated, because many chose their own paths.
  “They have their own plans for the future, to not follow other people’s paths or teachers’ advice or parents. They have their own future in their heart and they want to pursue their own dreams,” Wei said.
  Nancy Xu’s dreams are still a mystery to her. They are lost in a culture where competition is so easily measured by tests, and authority is not to be questioned. 
  “We would be asked, ‘what was your dream,’ when we were kids. We always responded that we wanted to be a teacher, policeman, or scientist, but when we grow up we know it is not my dream,” Xu said.
  As she sat in her office in Jiaxing, she admitted she is still hoping to finally discover what her dream is.

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