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CBBC Insights: Education | Seeking the best of both worlds in China’s education system

BritCham / CBBC
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By Simon Stewart, Director of Education Sector, and Caitlin Todd
China-Britain Business Council
There has been much debate on the strengths and weaknesses of China’s education system. 
Its admirers would point to Shanghai topping the OECD league tables consistently, making other countries determined to learn from its success. However, somewhat ironically, internal criticism of the Chinese system has been plenty. The rote learning, memorisation-focused aspects of the system have been criticised, with education experts noting the negative impact this “exam culture” has on children’s creative abilities and critical thinking. 
The East vs. West model of education debate has circled for years, but the answer does not lie in a “one or the other” response. Rather, a combination of the strengths of both systems working simultaneously to drill academic discipline and a strong mastery of basic knowledge, with the freedom for pupils to develop their own opinions and apply what they learn to real-world situations, is what we should be striving for. In fact, it was reported in July that 8000 UK primary schools are to adopt the Chinese method of teaching maths in an effort to “learn from the best”.
International schools bridging the gap
International schools in China, including many from the UK, are also stepping up to attempt to bridge this gap in the systems. They are seeking to strike a balance between academic excellence and encouraging pupils to take an active role in the knowledge exchange process. Many of China’s international schools encourage children to get involved inside and outside the classroom – putting forward their ideas, participating in group discussions and leading their own projects in order to get the most out of their education by applying what they learn in lessons. 
Dulwich College Suzhou is a pioneering example of how to change the way that students learn. Dulwich, whilst retaining its commitment to prepare students for traditional examinations, also made a strategic decision to emphasise the importance of sustainability and taking care of the environment as part of the school’s philosophy. In doing so, they have incorporated a “learning by doing” curriculum that enables the pupils to get involved with what they are learning. Pupils formed eco-councils, created a vegetable garden and a “sustainability area” on campus that actively applied what they were learning to their physical environment. 
According to Ross Allan, Director of Business Administration at Dulwich Suzhou, regular conversations with parents and pupils, communicating the value of spending time on sustainability projects and how this relates to what pupils are learning in traditional core subjects, is an important ingredient in the school’s success. It enables them to demonstrate how such projects contribute to the pupils’ overall personal development, as well as complementing their academic studies.
Opportunities in China
The Chinese system at its core is effective. It creates outstanding pupils in many areas of education and there is much that the West can learn from it. An increasing number of UK schools are now working with Chinese educational and government partners to build upon a solid Chinese educational platform to bring new skills and new ways of learning to young people. 
There are opportunities in China for other schools to follow Dulwich Suzhou’s example and promote ways of blending the two systems together to create the best education model for current pupils. Wycombe Abbey School adopted a wholly hybrid curriculum that blends the most successful aspects of each model and also places strong emphasis on extra-curricular activities. Another learning-by-doing method that is growing in popularity and merit is the application of the STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering and maths) which intends to nurture curiosity and problem solving skills by getting pupils to tackle real-life situations with the materials they learn in class and enabling them to solve issues independently. 
Schools and teachers can direct strategy; however, the success of applying a learning-by-doing philosophy is reliant on persuading pupils and parents that this is the right way to go. The most effective learning-by-doing strategies are led by the pupils and bring together all aspects of the school and the community. Proactive communication with parents, who are naturally keen to ensure that their children are successful in exams and gain entry to high level universities, is also important. Parents who can see that academic success can be complemented by student involvement and their personal development outside the classroom are more likely to be supportive of new ideas and investing time in these programmes.
CBBC will be delivering a report on the Chinese international and bilingual schools market in September 2016. If you are a UK school that would like to receive a copy please contact caitlin.todd@cbbc.org.cn.
For more information about establishing an international school in China, please contact CBBC’s International Schools Lead Ann Pan at ann.pan@cbbc.org.cn or our Director for Education Simon Stewart at simon.stewart@cbbc.org.cn
More on education in China from CBBC:







关于如何改变学生学习的方式,苏州德威英国国际学校(Dulwich College Suzhou)开创了一个先河。除了坚持让学生备战传统考试以外,该校也做出了一项战略性决策——强调可持续性的重要性并将环保作为办学理念。在此过程中,他们融合了“从实践中学习”的课程,使学生参与到他们的学习内容中。学生们组成了生态委员会,在校园里开辟了一片菜园和“可持续性区域”,从而将所学内容积极运用到现实环境中去。

苏州德威英国国际学校的企业管理董事Ross Allan称,与家长和学生定期谈话、告诉他们花时间在可持续性项目上的价值以及它们与学生在传统核心科目上的学习内容间的联系,是学校成功的一大要素。这使得他们能够展示此类项目对学生的整体个人发展有何助益,以及对他们学术研究的补充作用。


在中国,其他学校也有很多机会来效仿苏州德威英国国际学校的范例、通过推进两种体系融合的方式来为在校学生建立起最佳的教育模式。威雅公学(Wycombe Abbey School)采用了完全混合的课程(融入每种模式中最成功的方面),同时非常注重课外活动。另一个愈来愈受欢迎和肯定的实践学习方法则是运用STEM课程(科学、技术、工程和数学),其宗旨是通过让学生运用在课堂上所学的知识来解决现实生活中的情况,培育他们的好奇心及问题解决能力,让他们学会独力解决问题。


英中贸易协会将在2016年8月发布关于中国国际及双语学校市场的报告。欲了解报告详情,敬请垂询 caitlin.todd@cbbc.org.cn。


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