The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Surpassing Shanghai: Chapter 1

As part of the collaboration between #edfocus and the Principal Center, I am facilitating a book group on “Surpassing Shanghai.” Posts intended for responses will be found on my blog, as well as on the Principal Center. Feel free to contribute to the learning.

Surpassing Shanghai – Chapter 1 “Shanghai”

A quick summary:

  • China has a long history of placing a very high value on education. Since ancient times, education has been seen as the road to opportunity.
  • For generations, familiarity with the Four Books and Five Classics were needed to succeed on the government examinations. While exams have evolved, they remain the benchmark for a successful education. High-stakes testing is a major component of Chinese education.
  • Motivation for education is extrinsic, that is, coming from family or societal pressures.
  • Decentralization of education began in China in 1985. For this reason, while Shanghai presents an interesting example, we cannot assume it is representative of all Chinese schooling.
  • In 1986, China established a compulsory schooling law.
  • In 1997, formal assignments of jobs by educational institutions stopped.
  • Beginning in 1998, China began to push higher education for all. Today in Shanghai, anyone who wishes to attend an institution of higher education is welcome to do so at one of over sixty schools.
  • Class sizes are large in China, urban norms are 50 students per class and rural classrooms seat 80 to 100 students.
  • Teachers teach according to a scheme that they give more detail to.
  • China has universal pre-school education. Offerings such as art, music, or physical education are done by private groups, and are not part of the core school curriculum.
  • Reform conversations in China are built around the idea of student learning. They use the phrase “return class time to students.” (pg. 35)
  • Chinese curriculum now has three components – basic (core classes), enriched (elective courses), and inquiry based (extra-curricular activities).
  • China has allowed for some decentralization of exams, and there are far fewer multiple choice test items.

Key point:

On pages 39 and 40, the book states that improvements in learning have taken place, that students are exposed to a wider knowledge base and integrate their learning to tackle problems. Moreover, they are improving in their capacity to ask open ended questions and explore ideas. However, a veteran educator pointed out that students are still not given much autonomy and pressure of examinations still remains.

Critical questions:

  • What surprised you as you read? What perceptions did you have about Chinese education that you discovered to be true/untrue?
  • The author points out that Chinese parents expect their children to do homework, invest in private tutors, and encourage them to participate in extra curricular activities. In your view, do American parents place the same value on education?
  • What overlap did you notice between Chinese and American education?
  • What are your takeaways? In other words, are there pieces of the Chinese “educational puzzle” that Americans should look to replicate?

Outside reading:

Moving forward:

Let the conversation begin!


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