Friday, August 17, 2007

Is Chinese Education better Than British Education?

Every now and then you will get a newspaper report showing how an 11 year old Chinese kid can do a British A Level maths exam, aimed at 18 year olds.

Does this mean British education is falling?

No, what it means is that the Chinese education system places great emphasis on learning maths. I doubt that the Chinese have a natural inclination for maths, it is simply that this is the kind of learning that is encouraged. If you placed a British kid in a Chinese school, there is no reason that they would not develop a similar good standard. One complaint of Chinese students in the UK is how everyone assumes they will be good at Maths, just because they are Chinese. This is a fair point, just because you are made to study Maths extensively, doesn't mean you have to like it or feel a natural affinity for the subject.

Limitation of Chinese Education.

The newspaper reports which highlight the gap in a subject like Maths, rarely report the other side of the equation. Basically, Chinese education is good at Maths, but when it comes to independent thought it is sadly lacking. Despite the many failings of British education, A levels are testing in that they require students to evaluate questions, considering both sides and go beyond merely repeating standard textbook answers. Learning by rote is not the route to success for A Levels. They do require a high degree of understanding and evaluation. Take a student from a Chinese school and they will find the A Level standard quite perplexing.

It is in writing essays that Chinese education shows its limitations. Chinese education does not encourage independent thought or evaluation of written material. Instead, emphasis is placed on learning by rote.

For example, ask a Chinese student what they think about Chairman Mao; in 90% of cases they will repeat by rote how:
  • He was a great figure,
  • but, made a few mistakes.
  • On balance he was about 70% right.

What always strikes me is how all the Chinese always repeat this mythical figure of 70% right. Obviously someone decided this the figure of 70% is what should be on the curriculum.

Can you image 95% of British students repeating by rote:
  • Margaret Thatcher, great person,
  • made a few mistakes,
  • overall about 70% correct.
(and let us remember Margaret Thatcher, for all her failings, didn't lead to the deaths of over 20 million of her own countrymen)

Other Myths you get from Chinese Education

Democracy is maybe OK for the UK, but there are too many people in China for it to work. Democracy in China would lead to the disintegration of society.

The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 is unknown to the majority of the Chinese students. If they come from the south away, from Bejing, they may know about it. But, those brought up in Beijing rarely have any idea.


Deep said...

I've always wanted to read an article like that.

hermsss said...

but admittingly there is a disparity between the two systems. you guys are still learning subtraction in p.5 (I taught in a elementary school) We could argue that Chinese people could likewise develop a method for independent thinking when placed in the A level system. We could also have a natural affinity for independent thinking that could be better developed. Please don't discriminate against China.

Anonymous said...

I agree with hermsss' s post

And every country has their own teaching style