May 8, 2012

Education: Shanghai


Jessica: Students in Shanghai, China aced the PISA test. Compared to the rest of the countries measured, they were number one in math, number one in reading and number one in science.

So, how did Shanghai do it?

Hehe: I think there’s saying in China, ‘knowledge changes your life.

Jessica: Sixteen-year-old Hehe Hen grew up in Shanghai. She is spending one year at an American high school while her mom does research at Columbia University in New York.

Hehe: A big shock for me in American high schools is at first I can’t get used to teacher student relationship because here, the teachers are equally treated, not that serious as I experience in China. Chinese students show great respect to teachers because of the culture. Confucius shows ultimate respect to professors. Professors are like a second father; really respect them.

Jessica: Teachers are respected and experts say well-trained. Shanghai also pairs the best teachers with the worst-performing schools. It is the only way for educators to move up in their careers.

“If you’re a vice principal in a high-performing school and you want to become a principal, your only way to achieve this is to partner with a low-performing school to provide them with teachers and show them you can actually help that low-performing school to succeed. So, your evaluation as a principal is not ‘can you do well in an easy environment’ but ‘can you address one of the most substantial challenges.’”

Jessica: The province of Shanghai also changed the way it tests students. Many provinces in China have a traditional approach to education — rote learning. But Shanghai is quite different from that. Shanghai has placed a lot of emphasis on creative and innovative skills. If you look at PISA levels 5 and 6, those are the top levels of performance on PISA where you need to be very creative, you need to think out of the box, connect different fields of knowledge, deal with competing hypothesis. Shanghai has 26% of students who are able to do those things. The U.S. has 4%. Shanghai has done well on that end of the spectrum, fostering creativity.

So, that is Shanghai but many of these reforms have yet to spread to the rest of China. And Hehe says compared to the U.S., in Shanghai there is still a big focus on memorization.

Are you tested on memorization or your ability to be creative and solve problems?

Hehe: In China, we more focus on how to learn those facts and memorize, and everything exam oriented. And here in America, what I experience, I generally get to learn a lot. I know how to find the answer myself. My professors emphasizes no right or wrong answer. A lot of open questions, so you just express your ideas. In China, we have lot of tests. Most of the time, have settled idea about question and don’t have chance to express a lot.

Jessica: And Shanghai was able to succeed even with large classes. Hehe says that is because of the culture.

Are students allowed to ask questions in class?

Hehe: They’re allowed but most students prefer note-taking instead of asking questions.

Kids are preferred if they’re more obedient and more hardworking, and if you talk too much, ‘oh, this kid is little bit annoying.’ Here in America no, like, restrictions on kids that much. And kids do whatever they do and hang a lot with friends. More time to communicate with people and engage in community activities.

Jessica: Critics to China’s education system warn the pressure to do well is just too intense. Students spend hours studying after school and during weekends.

Are students competitive in Shanghai?

Hehe: Yes, very. Because education is very important to us and getting to a good college and getting good grades.

Jessica: Is that a problem that this system is creating so much pressure for these students? And if so, why would we want to take any lessons from them?

“You don’t have to become like Shanghai but raising the aspirations from students, raising the expectations from parents can be powerful levers for improvements. You can ask the question how far you want to go on that route but I do believe that’s an important aspect of an education system — that students understand what I do today in school will matter for my life.”

Jessica: Hehe is going back to Shanghai to finish her high school career. She says Shanghai students may have an acadamic edge over American students but believes Americans have the advantage when competing for jobs in a global economy.

How has this experience changed you?

Hehe: It changed me a lot. I learned a new way of thinking — think things in a more critical way and more willing to share my ideas.

Jessica: Which might just give Hehe the best advantage now that she is bringing what she learned here in the U.S. back home to Shanghai.

Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.


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