There was a fascinating cover story in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday (the article runs about 10 pages, so be forewarned!), in which Ann Hulbert examined the changing goals and dimensions of the Chinese educational system. For the first time ever, the Chinese are now looking to incorporate elements like innovation, flexibility, and creative thinking into the curriculum. Anyway, one of the drivers of this transformational change turns out to be a young Chinese-born Harvard student, who set up a special summer exchange program in China to help up-and-coming Chinese high school students tap into new notions of success (grades aren't everything! up with fun and freedom!).
What caught my attention was the fact that the American and Chinese educational systems appear to be going in the opposite directions. While Americans are really getting into rigorous testing and a renewed emphasis on science and math, the Chinese are learning to downplay testing and are emphasizing things like innovation:
"...Some prominent government officials have grown concerned that too many students have become the sort of stressed-out, test-acing drone who fails to acquire the skills — creativity, flexibility, initiative, leadership — said to be necessary in the global marketplace. “Students are buried in an endless flood of homework and sit for one mock entrance exam after another, leaving them with heads swimming and eyes blurred,” lamented former Vice Premier Li Lanqing in a book describing his efforts to address the problem. They arrive at college exhausted and emerge from it unenlightened — just when the country urgently needs a talented elite of innovators, the word of the hour. A recent report from the McKinsey consulting firm, “China’s Looming Talent Shortage,” pinpointed the alarming consequences of the country’s so-called “stuffed duck” tradition of dry and outdated knowledge transfer: graduates lacking “the cultural fit,” language skills and practical experience with teamwork and projects that multinational employers in a global era are looking for.
Even as American educators seek to emulate Asian pedagogy — a test-centered ethos and a rigorous focus on math, science and engineering — Chinese educators are trying to blend a Western emphasis on critical thinking, versatility and leadership into their own traditions. To put it another way, in the peremptorily utopian style typical of official Chinese directives (as well as of educationese the world over), the nation’s schools must strive “to build citizens’ character in an all-round way, gear their efforts to each and every student, give full scope to students’ ideological, moral, cultural and scientific potentials and raise their labor skills and physical and psychological aptitudes, achieve vibrant student development and run themselves with distinction.” Meijie’s rise to star student reflects a much-publicized government call to promote “suzhi jiaoyu” — generally translated as “quality education,” and also sometimes as “character education” or “all-round character education.” Her story also raises important questions about the state’s effort, which has been more generously backed by rhetoric than by money. The goal of change is to liberate students to pursue more fulfilling paths in a country where jobs are no longer assigned; it is also to produce the sort of flexibly skilled work force that best fits an international knowledge economy."
[image: New York Times Magazine]