A recently aired British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary gave viewers an instructive look at the differences between teaching methods used in China and the UK.
Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School documents the extended working visit of five Chinese teachers to the academically rigorous Bohunt Secondary School in Hampshire, England. Said Bohunt principal, Neil Strowger, “Fifty children in year nine had to live under a completely different regime – one run by Chinese teachers.
“For four weeks, they wore a special uniform and started the school day at 07:00. Once a week there was a pledge to the flag. Lessons were focused on note-taking and repetition. Group exercise was undertaken. The pupils had to clean their own classrooms. There were two meal breaks in a 12-hour day,” said Strowger.
China is well known for a school system based on frequent and gruelling assessments. Teachers are trained to spoonfeed children solely to raise academic results; students are expected to absorb without question and then to excel. Hours of homework are the norm for Chinese schoolchildren and, in the classroom, the ‘critical thinking’ so often talked of in the West is generally not encouraged.
In contrast, British teachers are expected to balance character education with a pedagogy that encourages children to ask questions and investigate their findings.
The documentary – where Chinese teachers took over lessons and worked towards an ‘end-of-experiment’ assessment – revealed that the British learners found the Chinese teachers’ lessons too intense and simultaneously dull, whilst the Chinese educators found the children (aged 13 and 14) lacking in stamina and discipline.
The documentary – also screened in China – has education policy makers in both countries admitting that a blend of the two systems is needed.
Earlier this year, British prime minister David Cameron announced that more rigorous testing was needed in the UK to establish that those students exiting the primary school system had mastered the ‘3Rs’. After the screening of Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School in China, government officials and education experts are discussing decentralising the Chinese education system and experimenting with more creative teaching methods, based on the finding that the fact that Chinese teachers have been trained to value instant academic success over everything else is outdated and potentially damaging.
Says Xiong Bingqi, vice president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute think tank in Beijing: “Learning makes sense only if the goal is to cultivate students with independent personalities and free thought. That’s what China should learn most from the UK/Chinese class experiment.”
Back at Bohunt, the assessment following the experiment revealed better marks in maths, science and Mandarin for the students who had been taught by Chinese teachers.
Category: Summer 2015