Ms. Su: Good morning. I'm very happy today to share with you lessons
that I have learned in the past few years from comparative educational research.
I've conducted some comparative research myself, but also learned lessons from other
This is a comparison and contrast figure of the basic educational system in the United States and China.
For preschool in the United States, mostly private for four years, and in China, all the preschools are public, meaning they are subsidized by the government, normally run by your working unit like your university, company, your enterprise, and they will pay for child care. Because 90% of the mothers or women in China work, in comparison to 60% of the mothers in United States, and 40% in Japan. So I think there are a lot of strengths in the Chinese preschool education, but that would be another topic for study.
Kindergarten does not exist in China. Although some of the cities have begun to experiment with the American idea of kindergarten, I would not recommend the kindergarten system to the Chinese educators because I don't think the kindergarten in our elementary schools has served its purpose. The kindergarten-aged children in China are still placed in the preschool, and they go through both preparation for academic learning and more socialization to help them prepare for formal schooling.
Then the elementary schools: both in China and the United States it is compulsory education. In this area, most of the elementary schools now have five years, but in China, it is six years. For the middle schools, many of the American middle schools are three years, and in China it's also three years. The American senior high schools, many of them are four years, and in China it is three years.
Senior high school in China is not compulsory, not part of the compulsory education. They have not been able to expand compulsory education to senior high school level yet, although it is popular in the major cities.
For higher education, a major difference between the American and Chinese higher education system is we have a lot more opportunity for higher education here than in China, where there are only limited institutions of higher learning. So there is an age limitation. You are only eligible to apply for undergraduate studies in your 20's and graduate studies in your 30's. If you are older than that, you cannot apply or get admitted by the higher education institutions.
Another major difference is that China, like Japan and many other countries, has very strict national entrance examinations to higher education, whereas we don't have that here. Undergraduate studies are about the same, four to five years. Graduate studies, master's and doctorate degree in China, both three years, very structured. Most students study full time. Whereas in the United States, more flexible. Master's you can get in even one or two years. Or doctorate, range between three to ten years. Next, please.
Now I want you to take a look at the schooling goals comparison in the United States and China, because, of course, this underlines how curriculum and instructions are designed and delivered in each country.
This is based upon historical review of research literature. Some of them may not be well articulated and shared by teachers and parents in schools. More moral education in China, very, very specific goals. And in the United States, there is general statement, even though moral education is almost nonexistent in the American schools, as you will see when I show you the curriculum comparison. But we have some statements here concerning citizenship education, democracy, American culture, morals and ethical principles and interpersonal understanding. Whereas in China, patriotism, collectivism, love of labor and public property, respect laws and regulations, respect teachers and love friends. So good respects for teachers in Asian schools, it's part of the schooling goals to cultivate that attitude in children from a young age.
Academic education, some similarities in Chinese and American schooling goals: basic skills education and understanding of basic processes and intellectual development. A major difference is critical thinking which is advocated here for schools, but not mentioned in Chinese schooling goals. In fact, in one of the comparative studies I was trying to conduct in China, translating critical thinking into an acceptable term by the Chinese educators, I had to translate it into something like "reflective thinking" and "independent thinking." Because critical thinking is too offensive to the Chinese educators, implicating criticism of the government and official ideologies. So they cannot accept that. We translated that into reflective and independent thinking and that can be accepted.
Physical education. We talk about emotional and physical well-being of students, whereas in China it is more elaborate. Those who have visited China know they have done extensive research and developed a comprehensive curriculum in physical education, both collective and individual sports. Cultivating independent creativity and developing abilities to express beauty are similar, except I think in the American goals, more emphasis on individuality and independence.
Labor education, I think in the United States we call it vocational and technical education, and this is a very important area of the formal curriculum in China. So they feel that it's not just to teach them some basic skills, but to cultivate an attitude or habits and interest in labor and to convey to them the basic knowledge and skills regarding modern technology and production management.
Personal goals. This is an area that is nonexistent in Chinese schooling goals. As you can see, the Chinese system has a great emphasis on the whole community, on collectivism and on group activity. Can we move it a little bit up? In fact, in some of the classifications in the literature, personal goals in the United States also include cultivating imagination, creativity and emotional and physical well-being. But self-realization is the most important personal goal we try to help the students to achieve, which is not encouraged in China-- it has a very negative connotation in Chinese education. You're not supposed to learn for your own benefit. You're supposed to learn for the common good, for the society. Even though many young people really think a lot about it. I have discussed it with Chinese educators and say they need to provide very good guidance to the young people, because even though we do not promote it, young people think about it, especially now with the strong influence from western countries. Next, please.
Here I want to show a basic comparison of the curriculum designs in elementary and secondary school. This is not necessarily based upon California model but the national literature, a more average, general pattern in the nation. As I mentioned just now, we don't have moral education in at least most of the American schools. But it occupies almost 4% of the Chinese elementary school curriculum. Language art, mathematics occupy about the same portion of curriculum in China and the United States. Science, about the same, a little more in China, geography and history, in China are offered as separate subjects, but here we cover them in social studies. We have a large percentage of the curriculum devoted to social studies, which I think cover a little bit of the moral education that we talked about, as introduction to citizenship, sense of community and things like that.
Physical education, arts and music, about the same -- no course or curriculum for labor, but in China, very important even starting from elementary school. They will take the kids out to the fields, help the farmers, for example, during the busy season, just to cultivate an attitude. And elementary students are responsible for cleaning up their own classrooms. There's a strong emphasis on that.
Now, the major differences in instructional strategies in elementary schools, in China they are taught in single subjects, not multiple subject. American elementary school teachers teach multiple subjects, which I think is the biggest weakness in our instructional delivery. I look at all those fancy standards. I have a 7 year old daughter in second grade. I looked and said, there's no way, if I'm an elementary school teacher, I cannot deliver this. I cannot meet the standards. Either I have a language arts background, I can probably meet the Standards in that area, but I cannot meet the Standards for math, science and all these other areas. If I have a background in math and science, probably I can meet the Standards in that area, but not those for language arts. This is the dilemma I found I'm facing in choosing teachers for my daughter. She is in a high ability and gifted school, and most of the teachers are good. But most of them have strengths in one area, rather than all the areas. So I feel I have to make sacrifices each year: one year, I choose a teacher strong in math and science, next year, I choose someone strong in language arts. Then I have to find tutors and send her to private lessons in the teacher's weak subjects. That's why our elementary school education, I think, lags behind that in China, Japan and many other nations, which have single subject teachers for elementary schools. The fourth grade Chinese students, for example, coming here, their math level is at our 6th grade. Language level and the way they can write essays and compositions, also much far ahead, at least one or two grade levels higher than the American students. We need to think about this, and this is my radical proposal here. I know it is difficult to think beyond our immediate experience, but I want you to think about this: we need to restructure our elementary schools to have single subject, rather than multiple subject, teachers. If we do not change this fundamentally, there's no way we can meet the newly proposed standards, no matter how hard we work to provide professional development to teachers, that won't fundamentally solve the problem for us.
Next, the secondary school curriculum comparison--it is basically focused on the lower level secondary schools, excluding the elective courses, and a lot of the science courses are electives in the secondary schools.
Just want to let you know that my assistant here is a visiting scholar from the Chinese national ministry of education, we have over 70 Chinese visiting scholars here at CSUN. We have only a few minutes left. Okay. So I will go through this quickly. Moral education turns to political education in secondary schools in China. Language arts, math and foreign language--a major difference here: about 1/5 of the Chinese curriculum devoted to foreign language. We only give 3% in the curriculum in American secondary schools. Sciences for the lower level secondary schools are covered by general science courses in American schools, whereas in China, they are still offering separate subjects--physics, chemistry, biology, etc. History, geography covered in social studies here.
Let's move on to the comparison in teaching and learning. I wish we had more time.
But I know we are running out of time. About teaching and learning in American and Chinese schools. Again, based on some of the comparative studies I have conducted in the past few years. I have some papers at the registration desk you can pick up related to this project, they were published in international research journals.
Teaching in American classrooms: known for teaching by isolation. Teachers do not consult with each other as much, and even though now there's a movement towards team teaching. Whereas in Chinese and Japanese schools, team-teaching is an everyday practice, I don't have time for examples. In America, teaching is more student centered than in the Chinese classroom. I know the American education critics would say that the predominant mode of teaching here is still teacher centered. But in comparison to the Chinese, it's much more student centered. Much more flexible materials, whereas in China, very textbook dependent, national textbook. Focused more on practice here, and Chinese focuse more on theory. The predominant mode of instruction in American classrooms, especially in sciences, is the inductive method. Whereas the Chinese rely on deductive methods. Focused more on the process in the U.S.; Chinese focus more on content. In American classrooms, as long as the students are happy -- there's a process going on, even if teachers are making mistakes and doing wrong calculations, it's okay. This is based upon the observations of my Chinese visiting scholars visiting American classrooms. Whereas in China, precise and correct delivery of the content is paramout.
Because of the ideology in China, there is a lot of emphasis on conformity. Tteaching is driven more by student interest here, whereas in China, by examination. Learning styles are very much influenced by the teaching methods we use. In American classrooms, students are more active. In Chinese classroom, more passive. American students, more independent. Chinese students, very teacher dependent. We have a very diverse student population here while in Chinese, very homogeneous. Learning by imagination here but the Chinese emphasize rote learning, memorization and homework. American students are rebellious, and Chinese students are very obedient. I'm sure a lot of you have experiences with students there. Emphasis on individual work here whereas in China, lot of
group learning and peer tutoring. Learning here is driven by curiosity but in China, it's driven by examinations. Classroom atmosphere: American classrooms based on the observation of Chinese educators, are very relaxed and informal. Chinese classroom, very tense and formal. And they observed a fluid communication and easy going relationship between teachers and students here. Whereas in China, very formal, stuffy and monotonous. Textbooks, based on the visiting scholars' observations, the American textbooks are warm faced and Chinese textbooks are cold faced. In China, they produce national textbooks, unlike here, private publishing companies that compete, which is a strong incentive for producing a better textbook. There are a lot of reform activities in improving textbooks in China. Student outcomes -- not surprising, we have low test scores here. Chinese students take various tests every week and become very good in them, achieving high test scores. Low creativity in Chinese students. American students are weak in theory, but strong in hands-on practice and doing practice. American students are weak in deductive reasoning, but strong in inductive reasoning. Chinese students are just the opposite. And I have a lot of examples in my research paper you can pick up at the desk. I know I'm running out of time. Norm?
Mr. Herr: I think we have time for about two questions. So if two people want to come up to the mic.
Audience member: I'm intrigued by your statement about kindergarten that you would not recommend our style of kindergarten in China.
Ms. Su: Yeah.
Audience member: I'm curious, is this related to your criticism of the multisubject approach, or are there other aspects of kindergarten that you considered?
Ms. Su: Yep. I feel that kindergarten did not serve the purpose in most of the kindergartens I see in the schools here. They are isolated and not socialized with the rest of the school. They have their little playground and the whole program only run for a short time, three hours a day. I think these kids would do better remaining in preschools, preparing for academic learning in elementary schools.
Audience member: In China preschool goes through age 5 or 6?
Ms. Su: Yes, they start elementary in first grade, same as our children here.
Audience member: Thank you.
Audience member: Thank you -- for the very interesting talk. I was curious about your final statement there about the outcomes for students. Certainly higher test scores for the Chinese is obviously well documented. But you said the creativity is lower. I'm wondering how you measure that, if you are just maybe being polite. My own experience is the Asian students I have had tend to be both good on test scores and creative.
Ms. Su: That's because they have studied under you for a while (Laughter). I think all the students have the potential to create, the key is how we cultivate them. Both Chinese and Japanese educators have recognized the lack of creativity in students as a major problem for reform. I know they are trying to develop more activities to cultivate creativity, imagination and all of this. But because of the pressures from national exams, the reform is very slow. The recommendation they make is that if we really want to start to cultivate creativity, we have to reform the national examination system. Otherwise if the teachers assign projects that cultivate creativity, that takes time away from memorizing the facts which they must know in order to take the exams and enter the universities. Whatever is not tested in the national exam -- hands on activities, experiments, creative projects -- they will not want to spend time on them in the calssrooms, even though they think it's good.
In addition I think the whole definition of creativity is a little different between China and the United States, Howard Gardener from Harvard University adopted a Chinese American child, went to China and did some research on creativity. They define creativity very differently in China. Here in schools, for example, I know when they have creativity contests, it must be your original work -- original music or piece of art. In China, it is different. When they have a competition for talent or creativity, it is about how well, how fluently you have mastered something. For example, you practice playing a piece by Mozart for a million times, then you can play just like Mozart. That is considered genius and very creative and talented. In the United States, that would be recognized of course, but people would look more for originality in creativity. That's the difference. A lot of memorization, repetition, drills and procedural work in the basic education for Chinese children. Memorizing 300 poems, then you will become a poet yourself. Rather than just go out and think on your own, and create your own poem.
Audience member: You mentioned they do group work. Could you expound a little more on that, because I know they are doing group work here in classrooms.
Ms. Su: Students or teachers? Students. Because the whole emphasis in China on developing a sense as a member of a community or group. For example, even you are a fast achiever and high achiever, and you score the
highest in the class, you would not be considered as a good student if you do not help those who are considered as slow achievers or who do not achieve as well as you. So the teachers would intentionally pair, for example, students who scored an A with a student who scored C. Every day you need to help this student at least one hour, peer tutoring, otherwise you are not recognized as a good student. Very strong peer tutoring going on in the Chinese classroom. They develop a sense of honor for the whole class, everybody achieves and succeeds. Rather than trying to become a star as an individual. (Applause).
Edited by Justine Su (June 11, 1999)
Go to transcript of Roland Otto
Postal and telephone information:
1999 Conference on Standards-Based K12 Education
Telephone: (Dr. Klein: 818-677-7792)
FAX: 818-677-3634 (Attn: David Klein)