If you’ve ever worked as a foreign teacher in China, you’ll know there are vast differences between the Chinese and Western education systems. Working in a Chinese office can be quite the culture shock, but teaching in a Chinese school is arguably more so. Here are a few important points to know about the Chinese education system.
Note the Rote
The most obvious difference between the Chinese and Western education systems is that the Chinese are very focused on rote learning, AKA learning facts by heart. While Western education systems typically push for lateral thinking as well as rote memorization, Chinese teachers favor repetition.
Considering that the Chinese writing system has nearly 50,000 characters, this method has clear benefits. In socialist terms, it also leads to a kind of “democracy of learning,” whereby pupils of all abilities reach their goals together. In the freer Western system, it’s far easier for less bright students to fall behind.
Authority is Everything
Another huge difference between the two systems is the role of the teacher. Widely speaking, teachers in Western countries are afforded far less deference than they are in China, where they are generally edified and obeyed to the letter.
So strong is the pupil-teacher bond in China that many students stay in touch with their tutors long after they’ve graduated. The idea that teachers could be talked back to or, heaven forbid, downright bullied like they are sometimes in the West is totally unthinkable.
The role of the parent in education is also largely different in China. Here, mom and dad tend to play a greater role in encouraging (some might say pressuring) their children to excel.
The stereotype of pushy Asian “tiger parents” is all too well known, but what is sometimes overlooked is that these parents’ parents grew up during the Cultural Revolution. As many had to give up their studies and attend re-education camps, a huge emphasis on the importance of schooling has been passed down through the generations.
While this laser-focus on academics can spawn less well-rounded adults, the importance of striving for excellence cannot be denied in a country with such high competition. Getting good grades is very important if you want to succeed in China, as students who do not pass the dreaded gaokao exam simply do not get to go to university. Parents are therefore consumed by ensuring their children do well, to the extent that the government has recently banned extracurricular classes after recognizing that the whole system was heavily weighted towards wealthy families.
Ultimately, however, Chinese students are very hardworking, committed and smart. As a foreign teacher, you couldn’t wish for a better bunch of kids.
Carrot or Stick?
Another notable difference is the methods of encouragement and punishment. While Western education systems tend to favor the carrot over the stick, it’s more common in China to punish mistakes than to praise good work.
Many critics cite the Chinese way as cruel, and there are of course kids who lose confidence after being called out too many times for getting things wrong. But at the other end of the spectrum is the permissive “everyone’s a winner” attitude we have in the West. This arguably churns out generations of self-entitled adults who can’t take criticism and expect instant gratification.
From the Horse’s Mouth
But what do Chinese people think about their education system? As you might expect in a country of 1.3 billion, opinions vary. Amy Hu, a recent graduate, says, “Of course there are bad aspects in every system. The Chinese education model is often criticized for being rigid and too focused on learning by heart, but at least it provides a strong structure.” Frank Yan, 27, remarks, “I sometimes wish I’d been educated overseas because it would have encouraged me to think more as an individual. At work I often feel hindered by the outlook I was taught at school.”
While it’s easy to criticize the Chinese system and laud Western methods instead, I hope this article has given more of a balanced picture. Just as the West tries to impress on its students, there’s always two sides to every story.
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Keywords: Chinese education
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For an article purporting to be about education, there is a VERY basic mistake made in it (see if you can spot it !). In addition, blanketing all non- Chinese countries under the catch-all term of Western, is just plain lazy. There are as many different approaches to education as there are countries in the world. Schools in India have a different approach to schools in (for example) Spain. Generalisations such as the above lack the nuances of reality.
May 11, 2022 04:00 Report Abuse