Education: East versus West

china school cafeteria

At the school cafeteria!

I have only been in China a short time,so I can not claim to know all of the differences in education between the East and West. I have been speaking with different native teachers from the area schools and in our conversations, I have found that maybe there is more to this subject than I originally thought.

There are a few similarities, such as
Teaching to the Test-
One of the first things we remarked on was how the teachers are teaching to the test. In the United States, teachers often get bent out of shape over the amount of time they must spend adapting their lessons to the latest standardized test. In China, I am not sure how often they change the tests,but the teachers all deliver information in a style that will guarantee the children will learn the information and pass the tests. You must pass a test to get into a good middle school, a test to get into a good high school and to go to college. Each test gets harder, so the amount of work the students must do is increasingly more difficult. Teaching to the test is a common practice, indeed it is the only thing to do.

Parental involvement- Parents pushing children their children to do well in school, enrolling them in after school activities, camps and additional learning centers. This phenomenon is not something that exists only in the United States. It is very prevalent in Asian countries. I have always felt sorry for poor sleep deprived children who must go back and forth from one activity to the next. It is the same worldwide I suppose.

School Uniforms– I love uniforms for school. It reminds me of my elementary school days. In China, every student wears a uniform. Many workers wear uniforms too. In my opinion, it just makes life easier. I know everyone does not agree with me. However, I am thankful that as Bean and I get up in the morning and go through our routine, I do not need to tell her what she can and can not wear to school. It makes my life so much more peaceful and we get out of the house on time!

The many differences begin from here.
Modes of Education
In China, there is only one way, maybe two of educating children. You send them to the Chinese public school, or if you are rich, you send them to the international private school. You follow the program of learning for the school and you are thankful that you were able to get your child a seat in school. The population is steadily growing and the need for schools is outpacing the availability. I asked about home school and everyone that I have mentioned it to has been flabbergasted. “That’s illegal. Why would anyone do that? How can the child re-enter the system?” It apparently does not happen. I asked about drop outs, what would they do in order to finish their schooling? Apparently, that is unheard of also. Children are required to go to school until they are 15, or high school age. High school is not compulsory. So until then, the children MUST go to school. That’s it.

Student conduct-
Imagine my surprise to see the students left alone in the classroom to do as they please and running wild in between classes. They hit each other, wrestle, kick, yell, scream and run. It is amazing. I look around for an adult, a teacher, anyone to get them in order, but there is no one. This is the normal behavior of students in between classes. In fact, the teachers seem to disappear,showing up right on time for class. Initially I was shocked. I told my contact teacher, “If our students were doing this, everyone of them would be in the principal’s office.” But maybe this way is better? We tell our students walk, don’t run, no hitting and no violence. We have a violent and aggressive society. Here, the people are not aggressive. The children are allowed to run wild, but expected to reel it in when the time is right. It seems to work.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise- Every day, when it is not raining, the entire school comes out onto the playground/courtyard for morning exercises. The entire school body will march to their respective locations and do a series of exercises to get the day started. When they are done, they will orderly back to their classroom. I could not imagine an entire American school being able to have such order and precision every single day. It amazes me. Twice a day, the students will perform eye exercises after their lessons. They will also go outside for gym class. Many american schools are discontinuing their physical education programs, but these children participate in exercise all throughout their day. You also are not allowed to sit on the sidelines if you feel that gym is not your thing.Everyone participates…everyone.

Rote learning- There are pros and cons to every learning methodology,but rote learning seems to work very well. In Bean’s classes, she is ahead on some of the things she does, like math or reading. Even though she is ahead,it is not that she does the work really well on her level. She is not really interested in learning as I would like her to be. Rote learning works really well because she can know the facts and then one day, the light can come on and she will fall in love with all of the additional information. Rote learning helps the teachers teach the facts that the students need to know without adding too much fluff. In the United States, as a teacher, we share information for things that we love. Sometimes this is not information that a student needs in their future. It may be fun,it may be cool but it is not vital. We spend a lot of time making learning fun and as a country, our students are falling further and further behind. As a minimalist, I like cutting out the fluff and sticking only to the basics. The students can fill in the rest as they desire.

Respect for Teachers- Children will not talk back to the teacher or use violence on a teacher. I have heard of many teachers in western countries that are afraid to go to their schools every day. I have no fear. I know that I will not have trouble with a student disrespecting me EVER. I can go into class, expect to have my students listen to me and deliver my lesson. If I have any trouble with any student, all I need to do is say something to the head teacher and they will put the fear of God into that student. The problem is solved for good. I like it.

There are many more differences than I expected. Some that I haven’t even noticed or haven’t written here, but I will speak more about it in the future. Of course, as with everything and everyone, people are not content with what they have. Many Chinese with money are sending their children abroad to study and to learn in other countries. Will this be better for their children in the long run? I really don’t know. It is all a matter of debate and opinion. My educational background is different than many other foreign teachers, yet, we are all here in China. Many Chinese share the same background and education, and yet, they end up in the same places I visit. It is all about choices and life paths. We may not all take the same path, but at some point, we all end up in the same place.

Have you ever taught abroad? What were some of the differences you noticed in education? I would be interested in knowing your thoughts.

2 Comments on “Education: East versus West

  1. I’ve never taught anything but this is just so fascinating to read about, thanks for sharing!

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