East-West Education

(submitted to Beijing Kids website)

Recently, on a LinkedIn thread, I read a post by an American teacher-trainer who claimed US kids are the "brightest, most capable, most creative in the world".  Another stated that, since there are so many ethnic groups in America, there is no need to look beyond its own borders for innovative ideas...

I wonder if this over-confidence isn't at the root of major weaknesses in the American system.  If you think you're already perfect, there is no need to learn anything new. (And I thought we Canadians had a monopoly on being perfectly smug!)

China seems to be recognizing that an influx of Western educational philosophy might be of benefit (perhaps - just perhaps - in more than financial terms).  In return, is America recognizing that a little of East-to-West influence might also be in order?

One memory from working in an English-speaking accredited International School in Finland, is a discussion I had with the Maths teacher there.  A group of five Grade 8 boys from Japan had arrived and were so bored with the curriculum that this good man was forced to advance his group to covering three-dimensional trigonometry. He needed my help (as Learning  Support Teacher) to help the Western students cope with the challenges.  While the Japanese boys easily completed trig problems, our Canadian/American students were fishing for calculators trying to determine whether 1.5, 2.0, and 2.5 constituted a 3/4/5 ratio - an exercise in futility.

Anyone who has worked with both Eastern and Western students knows that Asian students will be far more advanced in Math.

Perhaps Western educationists, who are currently putting so much emphasis on collaboration in learning, could benefit from doing a little collaboration of their own...


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Comments (6)

  1. Earthwise

    Whether it’s the American system or the International system, it is still working for the grade. I find Asian students much more sensitive to the difference of 96.7 % and 97.1%. I find American students concerned with little outside the border of their town or city save entertainment. Whether the Asian, or other nationality, the content of the course is secondary. When we can bulldoze the entire system, rid ourselves of the quantification of quality and the reward-punishment paradigm, then we can make progress with our educational systems. Supporting this you will find lots of data with regard to ethics in the classroom, i.e. there is none, and that phenomenon is quite international. What would need to be in place to make students not feel the need to cheat? What would we need to create to make the content of what they are learning primary to other considerations. You can’t do it with the reward-punishment paradigm. Yes, we have some successes, but look what that kind success is doing to our planet. Our educational system prides itself on number manipulation and deduction. Empathetic synthesis is not even on the radar now. One or two teachers here and there I am sure make a stab at it, but certainly it should be our core. Consider the education in Syria. What in their education gave rise to them torturing their neighbors? More to the point, what was not in the education?

    July 04, 2012
  2. john_diving

    My experience from working as a contractor in the engineering and surveying industries in a few counties and later in life becoming a teacher is that there is no perfect education system. You are correct to observe that Chinese and Japanese students do better in mathematics and that the American system concentrates on identifying the idea and communication. To argue my position I will present a situation I experienced. About twenty years ago I was involved with a tender in China where the American team put proposed and developed a fantastic machine that did everything, the Australian team cobbled together a group of existing technologies and professionals from several countries and the Chinese team used a lot of people to collect and collate the required information. All three systems worked, costed a similar amount and could complete the work in the required time so at the end of the day how you decide which is the best system depends on your point of view, do you want the most innovative, the one that creates the most employment or a low tech solution reliant on professionals. Education systems are the same. If I wanted my children to be the best self-directed learners who are likely to reach their highest academic standard I would have home schooled them but I know that this also provides them with fewer people skills and that they would tend to work in industries where you work alone. As a teacher in a large high school if my students feel good about themselves, can enjoy being in the company of those around them and can contribute to society then I feel that all is worthwhile. Oh! That was a bit deep and meaningful.

    July 04, 2012
    1. Earthwise

      I like your ‘deep and meaningful’. Take it a step further though, do we mean by ‘people skills’ how to collaborate and help one another be the best they can be, or do we mean ‘how to compete’? The Universities and Colleges, by their nature, foster competition. If even one to venture into a major that would rest on skills of collaboration, there then would then be set in mind for students, “I am in competition to be the most collaborative”. I know students in secondary education who are now trying to fill their portfolios of such evidence. So, the student has a utilitarian approach (at best) to helping others. I’m not saying that there are not those good eggs out there who have the disposition for ‘caring’, but as a system what do we do to foster this? So, I am basically completely unrealistic, and I’m sorry to say pessimistic about our current system or paradigm. We live in a market led world which by nature of the ‘bottom line’ is in complete opposition to caring for humans and animals, never mind about our planet. To the same judgement I leave the higher and lower educational systems that feed our market system the individuals that run it. However, I am optimistic that the paradigm will change and that your child and my children will eventually take part in that system. My guess is that you are a wonderful teacher if you are caring for students comfort in class. I hope your school is moving towards grade descriptors and out of quantitative seals of achievement. It is at least a first step. By the by, like yourself, I have been in both academia and in business. I found that the biggest ‘oxy-moron’ title for a class is ‘business ethics’. We need a paradigm shift(er).

      July 04, 2012
  3. john_diving

    A funny but harsh insight from my eight year old who is in his fourth year of formal education. He is not the top of his class by a long shot but he is very astute, has an active brain and likes a bit of mayhem, the kind of student teachers love or hate depending on whether his actions are considered as adding interest to the topic or mucking up the procedure. He has a lovely pretty conscientious teacher but when we were talking about her he said “She is like a Goldfish. Once she has done a lap of the class she has forgotten everything”. He likes her a lot but this has led to no colouring of his observations. A classic education does not provide this emphasis on observing.

    July 04, 2012
  4. anedu

    Thanks for your comments, John and Earthwise. I was not suggesting that we chose one paradigm over another; why not an eclectic model built on the strengths of each. Educators tend to think in terms of either-or. Now there’s a pardigm that needs a shift!
    I was a little shocked, in Beijing, when a 14-year-old after-school ESL student delivered her one-minute speech on the topic of the enviornment. She simply translated a presentation she had written for her Chinese day-school class. It was heartening to note that young people there are also being educated about global environmental issues. There may be a long road ahead, but no longer than it is in our equally greedy Western societies.
    The concept of having an education system that combines skills, critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration IS possible, but only if educators are not drawn into using all their energy to defend their own camp…

    July 22, 2012
  5. Earthwise

    Mother Nature and a healthy human condition are completely opposed to a capitalist free market system. I look forward to the education(system) that can overcome the opposition.

    July 25, 2012