Kristof , like some of the academics with global vision and experience I have spoken to, is well placed to view both sides of the coins and the complexities of education issues. Unlike others, he could appreciate what propelled the enigmatic success of China (and other Asian countries) and its shortcomings. More importantly, how could countries that performed poorly in recent education ratings learn and catch up.
Many people of this generation seem to have forgotten that in the heydays, the British, German and Scandinavian education systems used to highlight rote learning and rigour, overseen by regimental and stringent headmasters. There are indeed similarities between the East and West in this respect, contrary to many who see the contrast between day and light.
Education and meritocracy are the legitimate and egalitarian paths to gaining social economic status in an orderly manner. The result would be a society with a sizeable middle class population. Everyone has an even chance rather than the skewed results of private and public schools systems that have developed in most free enterprise systems.
Critics who paint an absolutely negative image of the Chinese / Asian / Confucianist value on education should ponder deeper. Are they envious and sour graping sore losers? Are they too shallow to appreciate the positive aspects of a disciplined education system?
Meanwhile, the Chinese unfazed by academic success, are constantly seeking to improve their education system and humbly learn from the West / Americans who they admire for stimulating creativity. It is not difficult to anticipate which school system will be the real winners in the longer term.
China’s Winning Schools?
Published: January 15, 2011http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/opinion/16kristof.html
Education thrives in China and the rest of Asia because it is a top priority — and we’ve plenty to learn from that.
For a socialist system that hesitates to fire people, China has also been surprisingly adept — more so than America — at dealing with ineffective teachers. Chinese principals can’t easily dismiss teachers, but they can get extra training for less effective teachers, or if that doesn’t work, push them into other jobs.
But this is the paradox: Chinese themselves are far less impressed by their school system. Almost every time I try to interview a Chinese about the system here, I hear grousing rather than praise. Many Chinese complain scathingly that their system kills independent thought and creativity, and they envy the American system for nurturing self-reliance — and for trying to make learning exciting and not just a chore.
For my part, I think the self-criticisms are exactly right, but I also deeply admire the passion for education and the commitment to making the system better. And while William Butler Yeats was right that “education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire,” it’s also true that it’s easier to ignite a bonfire if there’s fuel in the bucket.
The larger issue is that the greatest strength of the Chinese system is the Confucian reverence for education that is steeped into the culture. In Chinese schools, teachers are much respected, and the most admired kid is often the brain rather than the jock or class clown.
Americans think of China’s strategic challenge in terms of, say, the new Chinese stealth fighter aircraft. But the real challenge is the rise of China’s education system and the passion for learning that underlies it. We’re not going to become Confucians, but we can elevate education on our list of priorities without relinquishing creativity and independent thought.