There’s been a lot of coverage recently of Michael Gove’s Daily Telegraph article praising the Chinese educational system. Much of this has been critical (including this post by the Telegraph’s Shanghai correspondent) , not least because of Gove’s historically-ignorant use of the phrase “Cultural Revolution” to describe the changes he’d like to make to the UK educational system.
Sonny Leong, chair of Chinese for Labour, has written an excellent post on LabourList giving the flip side to China’s apparent high performance in maths and science education. Quite apart from the immense pressure that students are put under, leading to “high suicide rates”, this test-oriented system leads to weaknesses in other areas of educational development:
[Chinese students] are taught to memorise – parrot fashion – and regurgitate what they have studied for exams. Any analysis, discussion or exploration of other concepts or ideals are alien to their learning processes.
These students fail abysmally at non-standardised tests – open-book; open-notes; Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs); and True/False assessments. Why? Because they do not know how to pass exams that they have not practised for. Their incapability to apply knowledge acquired in a classroom to real life or non-standardised exams is a cause of concern for many parents and educators.
Students grow up lacking social interaction, interpersonal, teamwork and communicating skills because they have not been allowed to acquire or develop them. All their waking hours are spent on memorising and more memorising.
As a Chinese father, I would not be happy at all in schooling my four year old daughter in Singapore or Shanghai. I wouldn’t want my child to go through the ‘pressure cooker’ educational system where she is taught just to pass exams and incapable of any further comprehension.
I’m not saying the current state of UK education is perfect, but we shouldn’t fetishise the Chinese system. Sadly, I suspect a Gradgrindian system of rote learning which crushes any “analysis, discussion or exploration of other concepts or ideals” is precisely the educational model to which many Tories aspire – for other people’s children. I’d have hoped that Michael Gove would know better, though.