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Personal reflections on the Chinese and English education systems

Popularity 2Viewed 1434 times 2014-3-27 14:25 |Personal category:Chongqing life|System category:Life

Some of the students at my school are starting an English-language newspaper.  I offered to check some of the articles they have prepared for the paper and they also asked me to write a short piece of my own.  As several of the students had written excellent pieces about education, I also chose this as my topic.

Chinese students are not the only ones who face a multitude of examinations. My generation of students in England took more exams than any other. We still have the problem of schools, teachers and thus students being very exam-orientated. Schools are ranked in league tables by their exam results. As the teachers feel the pressure to make their school's ranking improve they “teach the test”, teaching only the material needed to pass the relevant exam. The negative effect of this is that students gain a narrow, rather than holistic education.

The best aspects of my schooling, which I try to bring into my teaching, came from particular teachers who inspired me. When I was seventeen and eighteen, my French classes included weekly debates in which were given a side to argue for. Our topics were deliberately controversial, such as the death penalty and abortion. Such debates lasted about an hour. They not only improved our fluency in speaking, but also helped us form clear arguments and reflect on our own ideas. Our teachers encouraged to engage with these political and social issues and I found that this contributed a lot to my own personal development. When teaching now, I try to include these kinds of issues because I believe that young people should be aware of them and how they affect their lives and the world around them.

I also recall a physics teacher of mine who constantly gave us examples of news stories that kept us informed about new innovation and ideas and how what we were learning in class could be applied to the wider world. This explained why what were learning from our textbooks was relevant and also kept us in touch with the real world. Schools have a tendency to become insular and I think that this idea tackles this problem.

Debate, the encouragement of sharing different opinions and an awareness of the application of knowledge to the wider world are thus some of the best aspects of my school life in England. I think that Chinese schools can be admired for their hard-working students. It's a cliché, but the attitude towards education in China is very commendable. The bullying I experienced at school for wanting to get good results and for contributing in class seems unimaginable to me in Chinese schools. The level of respect for teachers is very high which I think acknowledges the contribution that they make to society. According to an international study of 21 countries compiled by the University of Sussex in 2013, teachers in China have the highest level of public respect. This is an acknowledgement of the respect for the effect that teachers can have on our lives. Personally I wouldn't be in China if my French teacher hadn't encouraged me to apply for an educational summer project in Beijing and Shanghai.

Two areas where I feel both education systems need to make progress in are sport and practical skills. Sport should become an integral part of education and it should be led by inspiring teachers delivering the message that sport is for everyone, not just for the most able. Sport helps students not just in improving physical health, but also with things like teamwork, respect, encouraging their peers and setting and achieving targets. I also think that education should include practical work such as cooking, learning how to repair things and building skills. Not everyone is suited to academic study and so these lessons would allow these students to enjoy something they are more comfortable with. In addition, the feeling of having created something solid and tangible by yourself is extremely rewarding.

If the goal of education is to prepare young people for the outside world then education needs to develop a variety of skills, contribute positively to students' physical and mental health, and allow them to engage with and reflect upon the world around them whilst also listening to and respecting the opinions of their peers.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report voice_cd 2014-3-28 09:20
Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted your blog.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-28 13:45
Great idea to get students to write an English language newspaper! More thoughts later!  
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-29 11:42
Nihao Thomas. Some thoughts. 1) Inspiring teachers - Yes, in UK back in High school I had a great Economics teacher - not studied before A levels so first introduction. He was inspiring and I went on to study and even teach a bit at the London School of Economics, teach Economics at the American International University in London, then at various universities in China (more study in between). Probably all thanks to that teacher! 2) Sport - yes important in school. In China, I remember visiting Children's Villages - schools in cities which catered for evening and weekend study of sports, music and arts. Parents paid to get their kids these important extras. But surely more should happen in regular Chinese school programs?
Reply Report thomas.wood 2014-3-30 14:22
ColinSpeakman: Nihao Thomas. Some thoughts. 1) Inspiring teachers - Yes, in UK back in High school I had a great Economics teacher - not studied before A levels so f ...
I guess that shows that inspiring teachers can make all the difference!

Building up to my school's sports day this Thursday, I'm going to teach some lessons about sport.  I'm going to ask my students how they feel about the amount of sport they do at school and the level of importance placed on sport in the Chinese education system.  I'm looking forward to hearing their opinions!

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