China’s Interesting New Education Reform Commandments

In the spring of 2011 I had the privilege of visiting Shanghai with a Finnish delegation researching the future of work and education. (The trip was part of a bigger project. Should you be interested, the end report of this project can be found here [PDF].)

One of the final visits of our Shanghai trip was to the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, and we got a great, funny presentation by its Deputy Director-general, Dr. Zhang Minxuan.

We were sitting around a long table. Every couple of minutes Zhang would pause his talk and slide handfulls of candy at us listeners, yelling “Eat, eat!”, and then getting back to his talk on how to develop the Shanghai educational system.

Why am I blogging about this now? After all our trip took place over two years ago. The reason this new blog post by Joe Bower. You see, when I was listening to Zhang, I got the feeling that they were not going to stop there. They had already knocked Finland off the top spot of PISA, mind, so they were in quite a good shape.

Zhang told us about copying with pride, they had for example adapted the categorization and governance structures of Californian state universities to local settings in Shanghai area.

I don’t know if Zhang has been involved with creating the list mentioned in Joe’s blog post. In any case, you can put two and two together. The Chinese have taken several characteristics very prominently present (at least) in Finnish education and are now going to adapt them to fit their needs. And good for them!

Examples include:

  • Equality. Everyone starts at the same level.
  • Less standardized testing. Learning for skills/knowledge rather than passing an exam.
  • Less differentiation. Avoid putting children into different tracks too early.
  • Shift from numerical to categorical assessment.
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