Chinese lessons

Head of the Indicators and Analysis Division, OECD Directorate for Education
While in China last month for the launch of the first Chinese edition of Education at a Glance, I had the privilege of spending half a day in one of the experimental schools in Shanghai that is developing and piloting the next generation of the provinces educational reforms. Shanghai, among today’s top performers in PISA serves, in turn, as a pilot for China’s educational future.
The previous wave of reforms in Shanghai had focused on professionalising education and disseminating good practice through a system of empowered and networked schools. Those established the capacity of the education system to attracted the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and the most capable school leaders to the most disadvantaged schools. The new reforms are now intended to produce innovative approaches to pedagogy and personalised learning experiences. The aim is to offer a more flexible curriculum while avoiding the pitfalls that are familiar to students and teachers in the West. Students in our countries, for example, can sometimes feel overwhelmed and lost amid a great selection of courses and may opt for courses that either do not make use of or hone their talents or that help them to avoid demanding work.
This includes an intensive process of individual career counselling, where students can express and explore their interests in projects. Teams of teachers then match these student wish-lists against professional assessments of students’ strengths. This is all done systematically and is carefully monitored to determine whether and how the process can work on a far larger scale. For example, the experimental school I visited is required to replicate its efforts in seven of its empowered schools.
The Chinese are investing substantial resources in these reforms and are prepared to invest even more later on when they are disseminated more broadly throughout the education system. This investment, and the ways in which students expressed themselves and discussed their ideas about their education, were very different from what I had seen and heard in Chinese schools before. What is evident now is that the Chinese system is well beyond playing catch-up with world-class standards; quite simply, China is designing its own educational future.
If I had any doubts that China is “going global” at breakneck speed, they were dispelled when, on my way to the municipal office, I encountered a group of pre-school children who all wanted to speak with me in English. When I asked my hosts about this later, they said that their vision was to prepare every pupil for a global economy. They seem well on their way to achieving this goal.
More about Education at a Glance:
How China is winning the school race, by Yojana Sharma, BBC News, 11 October 2011
Chinese students learn from PISA, OECD Insights

Photo: Andreas Schleicher with schoolchildren in Shanghai, PRISMA Film

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