Education is a fascinating, important, and incredibly broad topic. It is something that almost everybody is (and certainly should) be an “experience-expert” in, and most of us have an opinion about some aspect of it. More than any political or economical system, education influences us all in both a mundane and a very profound way. In a successful educational system, we, some more than others, but still, spend many hours of our lives in schools, libraries, extra-curricular courses, and voluntarily participate in all kinds of “adult” education.
Education also has a very interesting bond with culture. Not only are we educated about cultures, our own and others, in the classroom, the general culture of the society we live in is also always present. And then there is the specific “classroom culture.”
Having experienced education in three very different cultures (Holland, China, and the United States), I have seen a lot of differences and similarities, in educational style, student-teacher relationships, content, expectations. And I find it increasingly hard to generalize any of these aspects. There is a lot of talk about education in our global world these days, and many points that are being raised (for example recently in this article from the New York Times) are recognizable to me. Yes, when I was studying in Chinese in China, many of our fellow students from Japan and Korea were extremely diligent, but hardly spoke up in class, while many Europeans, Russians, and Americans would blurt out anything, hardly embarrassed by the many mistakes they would inevitably make. Now, I don’t deny that there is a big difference between educational culture in China and, let’s say, Holland, but even when I studied at Leiden University, I always noticed this strange discrepancy between my own ability to do very well on tests, and get good grades, and classmates of mine, whose Chinese level where certainly above my own, but that just had a harder time doing really well on tests.
And while I was a teaching assistant at the University of Oregon, I taught undergrads from around the world, and let me tell you; cheaters come from around the world. Yes, some Chinese students thought that, just because they were Chinese, a course on Chinese film or literature would be easy for them (they were almost always very disappointed), but I’ve had just as much American business-majors visit my office hours asking “if they could please get an A, because they needed it to get into business school.” (They too usually left disappointed).
So differences like these that present themselves in an educational setting, are both individual and personal, at least that is my opinion. As series like the New York Time’s “The Education Revolution” show, there is a lot of interest in China’s education system. Not only is it the largest in the world, it is also one that has developed from a very distinct historical background through a tumultuous recent 20th century, and most likely one of the most influential factors in defining China’s role on the global stage in the 21st century.
I’ve been thinking about this topic more since i’ve started working at Berkshire, and becoming involved in its many educational projects, like ChinaConnectU. These last few weeks i’ve been working hard at wrapping up our volume Education in China: Educational History, Models, and Initiatives. It covers a lot of the topics I just described, from cultural and historical background, to modern issues, and future expectations. Articles written by experts in the field of Chinese education from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. It will help readers better understand the Chinese education system, the issues that it faces, the students it produces, and the ways in which all these things are relevant to all of us today. Wherever we are, and frankly, whoever we are.
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