Chinese education and creativity

Intriguing article on how China’s one-child policy has created unique challenges for today’s teachers, and how China is trying, not yet sucessfully, to inspire creativity in its young students:

At Heipingli, where 300 board from the age of six, a particular attraction for ambitious parents is the school’s emphasis on “creativity”, the new buzz word of China’s highly centralised education system, which is responsible for one in four of the world’s schoolchildren.

“Be creative” exhort the Chinese characters above the main entrance. Upstairs is a music room with a dozen saxophones, an art room containing Greek and Roman busts, a ballet studio complete with barres and mirrors and a computer suite with 56 machines. On every landing, there is a whiteboard for the children to draw on during break.

Yet, it all feels false, as if hurriedly bolted on. For the bulk of the teaching here, as in all eight of the schools I visited, is extremely formal. In classes of between 45 and 55, the pupils sit in packed rows facing the teacher, who stands in front of a blackboard and works steadily through a government-approved text book – approved for “ideological content, scientific spirit and adaptability to classroom instruction”.

The children are extraordinarily – almost eerily – well behaved and attentive, but their learning is passive; any “interactivity” is highly stylised, the questions and answers being learnt by rote. All proceed at the same pace. They work through printed exercises, complete piles of homework and are tested four times a year. It is an efficient drill-and-practice formula that anyone educated in Britain in the 1950s and earlier would recognise, and it doesn’t sit easily with creativity.

“We need to change our outdated teaching notions,” insists Dr Zhang Tiedo, vice-president of the city’s Academy of Educational Sciences. “We’re trying to promote the learner-centred approach. That’s why we’re so interested in multiple-intelligence theory [the notion that academic ability is only one among many], which is very big in the United States. We want the children to be more involved in their lessons and have more freedom and independence.”

This is a long and at times funny article. While it finds much to admire, especially regarding the students’ good behaviour and eagerness to learn (qualities that Chinese parents instill in their children at a very young age), it’s obvious the writer is somewhat amazed at the lack of individual attention students receive as well as the lack of self-expression that is encouraged (i.e., none at all).

The Discussion: One Comment

Haha, the funniest part of that article was: “as the red flag is raised to martial music”. That martial music is of course none other than China’s national anthem ๐Ÿ™‚

November 14, 2003 @ 4:31 pm | Comment

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