Education Reform

A student in a course I am teaching on Shanghai and Globalization recently presented on the country’s experiments with education reform (also sometimes referred to as ‘quality education’). The aim of the reforms is to introduce creativity to the classroom without jeopardizing the teaching of basic skills.

My student was pretty skeptical about the success of these reforms. She remembers talk of ‘quality education’ from primary school but insists that in twenty years little has changed.

Teachers, she claims, are resistant to a student centered learning approach, and students are confused and irritated by courses that they do not understand.

The main obstacle to reform, however, as everyone agrees, is the fundamental importance of the gaokao 高考 – the standardized college entrance exam that for years shapes the lives of almost every teenager in China.

Without a fundamental shift to the goakao system, the cramming, emphasis on memorization, rote learning, and extreme pressure will not change. Yet very few people – my student included – would support the abandonment of gaokao. The fear is that all that would replace it is guanxi and corruption.

As gaokao season approaches I will scan the local media for the inevitable stories on the intense preparations, pressure and debates that surround the test. For now this article on Slate gives a good introduction.

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