As I said before, I don't think there is a single "Chinese way of teaching". In addition, the Chinese ways of teaching are also changing. However, there are characters that are commonly agreed to be associated with Chinese ways of teaching: emphasis on discipline and order, rely primarily on repetition and memorization.
In the discussion provoked by the BBC documentary, "Are our kids touch enough: Chinese school", I've seen a lot of people praising these characters. Well, here's an antidote to the obsession of academic achievement:
Mind you, I don't see this as a full argument against Chinese way of teaching. I'd love to get more cases like Gillian Lynne from Mr. Ken Robinson. However, this talk at least challenges us, reminds us to look further, wider, beyond academic achievement, in education. I'll provide a Chinese translation to the transcript in another post.
After watching all 3 episodes of the BBC documentary, Are our kids tough enough, Chinese School, in my opinion, there is one aspect of British kids that really needs to improve: coping with competition and failure.
When British kids were in the PE class, they were very upset that they might fail. Philippa actually sobbed on not passing one item. And she said:
"I just don't think comparing yourself to others is a good, healthy life style."
Philippa is not alone. In the 1st episode, we saw another boy sobbed during PE class.
Well, I have to agree with Philippa that it is not a healthy life style. But competition is part of life. Ranking students all the time with different measures is of course too much, but exposing them to a certain dose of competition is essential to their development. To Philippa, I'd say it's equally not healthy if young people are so scared of competition that they sob on a failure in just one PE preparation. I don't want my daughter to be so fragile.
So this is the advantage of Chinese teaching. Put all the drawbacks aside, this is probably one thing Britain should learn from Chinese teaching: To get the kids used to competition.
It came to me as a complete surprise that the BBC documentary Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese Schoolgot so much attention, and the debate over which is better, the Chinese way or the British way, actually got so heated up.
So I just spent 2 hours watching it on Youtube and here's what I think.
First of all, I'd say the heated debate and all the furious comments on which way of teaching is better are mostly not based on the video itself. Because what the documentary shows is not a meaningful comparison. All the Chinese teachers simply failed miserably in managing their classes from the very beginning, due largely to, in my humble opinion, cultural conflict and language barrier. So I'll base my comment on the program and maybe comment on the debate over this program in a separate post.
I don't know who organized this. I think it's a fantastic idea in terms of cultural exchange. But if the goal is to compare the Chinese way of teaching to the British way of teaching, it cannot be taken seriously.
Teaching involves extensive interaction between the teachers and the students. Language barrier and cultural difference cannot be overlooked. Stories of foreign teachers got frustrated in Chinese classes because Chinese students were inactive have been around since 20+ years now. Why should we expect the Chinese teachers not to be shocked in a British school? This cultural shock should be expected and extra time should be planned for both the teachers and the students to adapt.
This talk is kind of special. The content has nothing really new to me, except the fact that Darwin had actually concluded that skin color has nothing to do with climate. However, Ms. Nina Jablonski delivered it in such passion and power that you feel the urge of immediate action.
You can tell from the fluent flow of long sentences that this is for sure a carefully prepared talk. But no passion was lost in the preparation. Outstanding!
I've been watching TED videos for years now but still feel like an eye opening.
People may say, "Oh come on, these are TED videos right? They are meant to impress people." I'm actually not that easily impressed. I'm not talking about the technology or the plasticity of human brain. I'm talking about the very fact that a disabled person could become an MIT professor, lead a world class research team or could be so sharp, so articulate and appear so *normal*.
Despite all the pride of being Chinese, we have to admit, that would not happen in modern China.
If Mr. Hugh Herr had been born in China, he would have probably at best dropped out of school very early on and attended a special school or even worse, simply stay at home, completely isolated. If Mr. Daniel Kish were in China, he won't have had the chance to share his personal experience with others. Instead, with his outstanding ability, he probably will end up making a living by showing off his special ability in a circus (Or in Beijing subway if circus fade out of favor completely).
The reason behind the differences, I believe, lies primarily in everyone's mind.
I happen to know the concept of "stereotype threat". For those who don't know, according to wikipedia it is "one of the most widely studied topics in the field of social psychology", that evaluates the impact of stereotyping. As it turns out, a lot of performance gaps between groups can be explained by this stereotype threat. I personally believe that stereotype threat is the key reason behind the performance gap between disabilities in China and disabilities in the US.
Let's face it: China is still a country full of biased stereotypes. It's true that stereotyping is part of human nature and that stereotypes exist in every society. However, China stands out in allowing stereotypes to go unchecked in every corner of everyday life, TV programs, newspapers, magazines, even textbooks for children. As a consequence, people are so used to all sort of stereotypes that no one even bothers to stand up against said stereotype, even though everyone has been a victim of one form of stereotype or another.
I have to admit that, I only started to pay attention to this topic after my wife and I had a child. My wife and I are lucky, our daughter is normal in every aspect. However, as new and inexperienced parents, at times when my daughter was sick and sometimes we became scared and couldn't help but think about all kinds of what-if scenarios.
Out of this kind of reasoning I became a person that is conscious about stereotype. Bit by bit I recalled how I have struggled against all sorts of stereotypes against myself when I was young. I started to realized how I have stereotyped others and how destructive that could be. Everyone is a victim of this inescapable net of stereotyping.
So, on this special day, I propose one thing we could do to bring positive changes to China, without disturbing the government: reflect on ourselves and stop stereotyping.
To end this article, here's a Stanford professor on this topic: