Learning from the street

James Fallows has been posting on the differences between Chinese and Western education. His discussion began with three links to recent articles. I was particularly impressed by Ryan Pollack’s piece in the LA Times.

Key quote:

Ultimately for China, becoming a major world innovator — and by extension, a robust economic power — is not just about setting up partnerships with top Western universities or roping off elites and telling them to think creatively. It’s about establishing an intellectually rich learning environment for young minds. It’s about harnessing the same inventive energy of the street markets and small-time entrepreneurs and putting it in the schools

This seems to me a crucial point. Certainly, in Shanghai – despite all the gloss –  it is in the street markets that the entrepreneurial spirit is most alive. Beneath and between the skyscrapers and luxury renovations small traders – most of them migrant workers – set up their  stands, blankets and rigged up bikes to sell everything from an astonishing array of street food, to small pets, flowers, pottery, bootleg cd’s, and shanzhai cellphones.

Anyone who doubts that the future of China’s creative culture  depends on this (marginalized) floating population and their bottom up growth should compare ‘University Avenue’ outside Fudan, which is  at the heart of Shui On’s new development ‘Knowledge Innovation Community and feels – at least for now – like a film set for a zombie movie with the  thriving unplanned quasi-legal bazaar outside the back gate of  East China Normal University.

Fallows has more on China, creativity and education here.

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