The province of Shanghai, China, took part in a OECD eduction study for the first time and scored higher in reading than any country. It also topped the table in maths and science. More than one-quarter of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just 3%
Korea and Finland top the OECD’s latest PISA survey of reading literacy among 15-year olds, which for the first time tested students’ ability to manage digital information.
The 2009 PISA data demonstrate the rise in the quality of education in Asia — among the top performers were Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and Korea
What those scores represented, though, was not Chinese educational superiority but an unhealthy focus on standardized testing.
To cement its superpower status, China needs to improve its educational system so it doesn’t just produce great academic research and innovation but also attracts the world’s top students. All great powers draw in the world’s best and train the future leaders of their allies and vassal states. That is soft power at its finest. The British have had Eton and Oxford, the U.S. St. Paul’s and Harvard. China needs its own global centers of learning.
What should be done? China should continue to encourage students to go abroad to gain expertise to bring back, but it also needs to strengthen its education system internally. Aside from introducing more liberal arts at the university level, as I have written before, reform needs to start at the primary school level.
First, more private schools should be allowed to choose their own curricula pending ideological approval at a city or provincial level rather than having to apply to the national government. Local education officials should compete to create the best educational programs just as municipalities compete to attract foreign investment.
Schools still should be kept from choosing their own curricula without any approval, to ensure quality, but they should be granted more leeway to choose their own course material and differentiate themselves from other schools. Private schools can respond to market demands more easily, by doing things like offering smaller class sizes, more extracurricular activities and more rigorous learning methodologies and materials.
Second, mainland Chinese passport holders should be allowed to attend international primary schools. Right now, because of ideological and religious worries, they can do so only if they hold foreign passports. This is an outdated policy. There simply haven’t been ideological problems raised by mainlanders educated abroad who have returned.
Similarly, foreign students should be allowed to attend domestic schools with Chinese classmates. They currently can attend local schools, but they’re usually placed in special classes for non-Chinese passport holders. Diversity in the classroom is proven to lead to better learning.
Finally, foreigners who study in China, even short term, should be allowed to work when they graduate. Getting a Chinese work visa is very easy for most foreigners, but it’s hard for young ones with less than two years’ work experience. That is a mistake.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the findings, “to be brutally honest, show that a host of developed nations are out-educating us.”
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