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What's Wrong With Chinese Education

China's education system produces students highly adept at reciting back what their teachers tell them, and teachers who focus only on regurgitating what the state textbooks contain. What's lost is the curiosity and creativity that motors truly great nations.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Pack mentality in China's classrooms? (Helga's Lobster Stew)

BEIJING - I once gave a lecture to some high school teachers. After the lecture, there was time set aside for questions - there were none. I asked these teachers: “Don’t you normally give your own students any chance to ask questions?” After a long moment of silence, one teacher asked me: “Could you please give us an analysis as to why we cannot raise any questions? 

”In fact, it’s not the first time I've encountered such an embarrassing silence in my classes. Even with a lot of encouragement, attempts to inspire them, and offers to invite them to dinner, my students are sometimes still unable to come up with a single question. 

Our education system has long been based around an approach of standard answers. Whatever the subject is, the teacher would always break down each lesson’s content into standard answers, one by one. Even problem-solving follows a standard procedure and the composition of an essay respects a certain routine. 

The teachers give lectures following standardized answers in their teaching and the students learn in accordance with the standard answer. If the students strictly stick to this rule, they’ll achieve high scores in their exams. On the contrary, if they don’t follow this rule, they won’t be able to have good results, which will prevent them from reaching the ultimate goal of getting into a top university. 

In such an education model, for both the teacher and the pupil, nothing is to be challenged or questioned. The teacher only has to teach in accordance with the reference book, to instill into the students the standard answer -- and that’s all. 

Taking for granted

Naturally, students have no need to ask unless it’s actually because they didn’t understand what the teacher meant. As long as the teaching is in line with the curriculum, the teacher makes no mistake. The teacher is able to clearly explain the points, and everything is fine.

Day after day, a child who was originally full of innocence and curiosity becomes void of questions. Everything that is taught to him becomes taken for granted and justified. No other teacher in the world can ever be more confident than the ones in the Chinese education model, because they believe they have in hand the truth. What they teach the students is the truth and this truth comes from the text book. 

And why do they readily believe in this? Because the Chinese education system forces teachers to believe in the standardized teaching material unconditionally, or risk losing their job. Only by sticking to this rule are the students able to get high scores, and the parents hence become the accomplices of this teaching mode. 

Whoever dares to change the way they teach will be mercilessly denounced by parents. Education should stimulate the imagination and creativity. Yet the Chinese way of teaching suffocates the questioning ability of both teacher and student. 

If you can’t question anything, how can you create? Instead, if you study well and are excellent in exams and capable of reciting a lot of knowledge, the Chinese education system will cultivate you, alas, into a walking bookcase. You can’t expect great things from such a person when he or she steps out into society.

*Zhang Ming is a blogger at Caixin media and professor of political science of the Chinese People’s University

Read the original article in Chinese.  

Photo - Helga's Lobster Stew

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Caixin is a hub for financial and economic news in China. Serving high-quality and original content, focuses on key financial and economic information.

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