The release of the PISA results last year confirm Shanghai’s status as the world’s top ranked education system in Maths, Science and Reading. All credit to Shanghai and its teachers but are the results the key drivers for quality learning and teaching which China seeks to pursue? Probably not.
Ian Johnson in the New Yorker magazine reports on the rise of concerns regarding China’s approach to education and possible alternative models of education. Johnson follows the journey of China’s first Waldorf school in Chengdu. He writes that while Shanghai is widely praised internationally, many Chinese intellectuals see ‘education as among the biggest problems facing the country.’ There is even growing discussion on how to reform China’s public schools as more and more parents look to the West for alternative models of schooling.
Among those quoted in the article, a university student whose recently published book articulates the growing discontent: “In elementary school, they rob us of our independent values; in middle school, they take away our capacity for independent thought; and in university, they take away our dreams and idealism.”
Those who are critical of China’s current education system are concerned that the country won’t be able to compete with an innovative West. Chinese-born academic Yong Zhao admits in his book World Class Learners, “the focus on academic achievement is the continuation of a long Chinese tradition that puts book knowledge above all others.” Education in the age of globalisation needs to deliver much more than ‘book knowledge’.
After reading the article, I’ve concluded that China is no different to any other nation which views education as an investment in its future. As in the West, the traditional model of schooling is being challenged albeit for different reasons and although Shanghai students may be ahead of their Western counterparts in international measures, the moral is that sometimes all that glitters isn’t gold.