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Popularity 2Viewed 2023 times 2014-5-3 03:48 |System category:Life| 中国教育

近来在思考中国教育问题,突然想起十多年前的post, which is reposted here with some minor editing to improve clarity.

East vs West Education

Post time 2003-10-6 12:41:48 reposted from China Daily

Since Confucius’ time, or more realistically probably much later, Chinese were trained to develop an exceptional skill in memorization and repetition. I personally benefited a lot from it in passing my TOEFL test, but suffered even more in the thousand of hours spent on memorizing the answers to those stupid questions in political examinations. Such a training has also produced many civil servants (more recently engineers, technocrats), who helped to maintain an exceptional Chinese civilization that has a longer continuity than any other civilizations. The Chinese culture has changed very little in the past 2200 years, showing a powerful resilience and stability, while in comparison, the civilization of Egyptian, Greek, Indian, and Roman all flourish momentarily in history. Some historians attribute this Chinese phenomenon to its remarkable education and civil servant system, by which all prospective candidates for government official were trained to gain the skill of “memorization, repetition, and obedience”.

The system, in theory, has also provided an equal opportunity for all people who can afford to and good at memorization and are obedient. While somewhat flawed, it is much better than a system in which only one's blood matters.

However, such a system does have its downside, people so educated can seldom look beyond Confucius, and their only ambition is to become a good civil servant (and engineer these days). Except for the Tang dynasty in which other cultures were welcomed and new ideas were absorbed, the Chinese culture at its best time is more like a well manufactured steam engine, humming along, but unlikely to fly.
(Disclaimer: my history knowledge is very limited, please take it easy in shooting back :)

With such a brilliant history and tradition, the Chinese education system is unlikely to change much soon. People trained in such a system find it very hard to comprehend the Western culture, including myself up to this day.

If I was still in China, I would never be able to explore the things I have explored so far. For example, as a poor kid from a poor area, in my high school years I had no clue what I wanted to do in the future, and I happened to be shuffled into a glorious field called foundry/casting/(shoveling sand). I would never be allowed to explore my interest or talent in areas other than “shoveling sand “ since the tender age of 16. This has nothing to do with com-mu-nist so please relax. I thus shoveled sand for whole 8 years in Tsinghua. There is no way I would be allowed to or qualified to study “Ceramics” as later in Cambridge, almost zero chance to become a web software developer as I am now.

You may argue that the businesses in China is now offering more opportunities, but the education system is still very much the same, very hard for one to explore and switch.

It is almost incomprehensible to a Chinese educator that a person like Newton could exist, not in the sense of his ingenuity, but rather in the richness of his life. He made most of his contribution in mathematics (part of it also called mechanics nowadays) in his 20s or early 30s. He then spent 10 years or so fooling around trying to transform lead into gold with little success. He played with glasses (prism) in his bed to enjoy morning sunshine and made most his contribution in optics while dreaming of making gold. He then turned himself into a politician for a few years as parliament member. Later on he got a job as Royal Mint ‘Manager’ for many years and thus finally realized his dream of making gold (turning gold pieces into coins this time) and become wealthy. Finally he found a job as the President of Royal Society for the last two decades or so of his life, and from there launched many of his powerful attacks on his enemies. (by memory only, facts may not be accurate)

My point is that one of the defects in the Chinese education system lies in its failure to understand that its goal should be to give its students essential skills to explore and to think, rather than to stuff them with as much as possible “useful knowledge”. This is probably the major difference between a good institution, where many thinkers gather, and a so-so one where many knowledgeable followers flock around to brag whose bag of knowledge is bigger.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-5-3 14:29
Yes education should encourage investigation, reflection, evaluation and not just the learning of facts. Sometimes facts are wrong!

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  • 中国教育 2014-5-3 14:29

    Yes education should encourage investigation, reflection, evaluation and not just the learning of facts. Sometimes facts are wrong!

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