Chinese EDU system looks to the US for Creativity & Innovation Insights

Source: WSJ, Dec 2010

Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests. For that reason, they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.

Shanghai’s 15-year-olds topped the global league tables in reading, science and math in the Program for International Student Assessment, a test run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. …

With its demanding parents, ambitious students, and test-obsessed culture, China’s K-9 schooling is probably the most rigorous in the world. And Shanghai, an open and cosmopolitan city that is boundlessly ambitious and fiercely competitive, has always been China’s K-9 education leader.

So China has no problem producing mid-level accountants, computer programmers and technocrats. But what about the entrepreneurs and innovators needed to run a 21st century global economy? China’s most promising students still must go abroad to develop their managerial drive and creativity, and there they have to unlearn the test-centric approach to knowledge that was drilled into them.

The failings of a rote-memorization system are well-known: lack of social and practical skills, absence of self-discipline and imagination, loss of curiosity and passion for learning. Chinese students burn themselves out testing into university, where many of them spend their time playing World of Warcraft.

Both multinationals and Chinese companies have the same complaints about China’s university graduates: They cannot work independently, lack the social skills to work in a team and are too arrogant to learn new skills. In 2005, the consulting firm McKinsey released a report saying that China’s current education system will hinder its economic development.

According to research on education, using tests to structure schooling is a mistake. Students lose their innate inquisitiveness and imagination, and become insecure and amoral in the pursuit of high scores.

Even Shanghai educators admit they’re merely producing competent mediocrity.

The OECD report states, “[T]he dictates of the examinations have left students with little time and room for learning on their own. ‘There is an opportunity cost in terms of time and space,’ said [one experienced Shanghai educator]. ‘Students grow with narrow margins’ and are not fully prepared for their lives and work in the future. This is seen as a deep crisis, exacerbated by the reality of single-child families.”

A consensus is growing that instead of vaulting the country past the West, China’s schools are holding it back. They equip everybody with the basic knowledge to be functional in a socialist economy. But now that China is a market economy hoping to compete globally, it’s jealous of America’s ability to turn its brightest students into the world’s best scientists and businesspeople.


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