- Registration time
- Last login
- Online time
- 9073 Hour
- Reading permission
US education failures offer hard lessons for China
By Walt Gardner|
I believe that this comment is worth to be considered
With China poised to become a major force in the global economy, it's only a matter of time before the role that its schools play in the process emerges as a contentious issue.
At least that has been the experience in the US, where scapegoating schools has evolved into a highly effective propaganda strategy to divert attention away from the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression (1929-33).
Even though China has been relatively unscathed by the crisis, its decision to join the World Trade Organization in 2001 unavoidably launched it into a new orbit.
The educational stakes are particularly high in China because of the size of the prize. The country's 660,000 schools, 16 million teachers and 321 million students dwarf the US's 90,000 schools, 3.2 million teachers and 50 million students.
Not surprisingly, the educational market is irresistible to entrepreneurs. They recognize that if they can create enough doubt about the ability of the government to provide a quality education for all students, the door will be open for them.
That's because until the 1980s, private schools were not allowed to operate in China.
As a result, the task of educating the young fell largely on the shoulders of government schools.
For poor families, the variation in the quality of schools is intolerable. Schools for the children of farmers in Sichuan Province are not in the same league as schools for the children of the elite in Shanghai.
The anger eventually coalesced in the newly minted phrase, choufu, or to hate the rich.
The attitude of the poor is understandable. According to UN statistics, in the past decade 400 million Chinese have seen their net income decline. The disparity in educational opportunities between rich and poor weighs heavily on the minds of parents who were denied a chance for university by the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
Chinese authorities estimate that 22 million children are being left at home when their parents migrate to cities in search of work paying more than subsistence salaries. These children, the liushou ertong (left-behind children), are increasing in the country's rural areas.
Many of the left-behind children stay with one parent, but more than 30 percent, according to the China National Institute of Educational Research, are left with grandparents or with other relatives who provide little or no supervision.
Some argue that China presently turns out more science and engineering graduates than all of Europe. If schools are so bad, they ask, then how is this possible?
But this advantage is reserved for the most part for students from rich families. Moreover, the edge will be slowly eroded as India begins to hit its stride in graduating more science, technology, engineering and math specialists.
So by successfully undermining confidence in China's educational system by linking it to the economic uncertainties ahead, entrepreneurs pave the way for their entrance into China's lucrative market. The trouble is that running schools like businesses as the solution will do little to improve matters overall. The conflict between the pressure to show a profit and the duty to meet the needs and interests of students will assure that the former will always win out.
The US learned its version of that lesson recently. Stanford University economist Margaret Raymond examined data from 15 states and the District of Columbia. She found that 37 percent posted results worse than comparable traditional public schools, 46 percent did about the same, and only 17 percent were superior.
Charter schools are publicly financed but free of the regulations applying to traditional public schools. There are about 4,600 charter schools in the US, enrolling 1.4 million students. Although more and more states are lifting caps on the number allowed, the quality ranges from excellent to execrable.
Despite the clear evidence, we have not yet seen the last of reports attempting to lay the blame for weaknesses in the economy on practices in the classroom.
What is so troubling is the absence of hard questions after so many reports over the years have turned out to be so wrong.
no one speaks out, the danger is that special interests with hidden agendas will prevail. This is already happening in education in the US, but it's going to get worse. By the time the truth finally emerges, it will be too late to undo the damage. China ignores the lessons at its own peril.
The author taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education.