March 03, 2006

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Higher education reform in China

It's China Brief time and the standout article this time is Yitzhak Shichor's look at the revolution in China's higher education. Read the whole thing, but here's a taste:

Compared to other countries, China's higher educational system has one major disadvantage and two major advantages. Its main disadvantage reflects the time-honored legacy of conformity, discouraging innovation and lack of academic freedom. As much as Beijing would invest in higher education, if it does not manage to overcome these obstacles and provide a climate for fearless academic and scientific discussion, this revolution will be short-lived. At the same time, China has two formidable advantages: one is its huge population and the other is its mobilization capacity that is not bound by democratic values. Given that the ratio of talented people in the Chinese society is about the same as in other countries (and some would say it is higher), the Chinese government can feed its higher education system with millions of talented and even exceptional students for years to come.
That's a novel point: democracy hinders "mobilization capacity" and that's an advantage. Yet the very previous sentence the author tells us the lack of academic freedom is a disadvantage. A curious note to finish the piece on.

posted by Simon on 03.03.06 at 09:10 AM in the China history, education & culture category.


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I struggle with the lack of innovation, improvisation, invention, self motivation every day in my job. The nationals that work for me are bright, great people. But, they really struggle when it comes to thinking of new ways of doing things. The propensity to sit back and let things happen, rather than driving a new way in maddening. A simple thing like getting up in front of the group and presenting a project and convincing people of your point of view...and then, getting the audience to question what is being presented. We (westerners) don't think twice about interrupting and asking questions...but not here.
Training can only take me so far...there is so much ingrained habits that have to be overcome.

posted by: GZ Expat on 03.03.06 at 12:20 PM [permalink]

Chinese are trained to learn by rote. Historically, the ladder of imperial success, to quote Ho Ping-ti, depended upon rote learning, and that tradition follows to the present day. In classes of 50 or more, little else can accomplished but the memorization of discrete bits of information and spitting it out again. By seeing the best students -- those who have made it through the sieve into the college system -- that we think Chinese are, as a rule, so very intelligent and well-learned. But go into the great mass of businesses and train the sales force (college grads, nonetheless), as I have, and one finds only a handful prepared to think on their own. When education fosters dependency, who can expect more?

posted by: Rich Kuslan on 03.04.06 at 07:35 AM [permalink]

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