Worlds apart and in a different class

Updated: 2015-08-10 07:44

By Zhang Zhouxiang and Zhang Chunyan(China Daily)

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Worlds apart and in a different class

Elizabeth Truss (center), British under secretary of state with responsibility for education and childcare, attends a math class for third-graders at a primary school in Shanghai on Monday. Gao Erqiang/China Daily

Despite the various opinions and perceptions, one common point emerged: Cultural and country differences really matter and the two countries can learn from each other's strong points to offset their own weaknesses.

"No one has a monopoly on what is right and wrong with teaching and learning", Anna Brunskill, who has taught in the UK but now works in Jerusalem, wrote in the Daily Telegraph. "Each country has its own unique educational culture that is a product of years, decades, if not centuries of experiment and practice, and which reflects the inherent values of its society."

'A vicious circle'

Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Shanghai, said neither system is perfect, and pointed out that China's exam-oriented system has its roots in the bureaucracy that dominates it.

"For most Chinese students, the only way to enter a good university is to get a very high score in the National College Entrance Exam, or gaokao. Worse, colleges in China are mostly run by the government, so educational resources are often distributed according to which college gets the students with the highest scores. The two form a vicious circle that compels Chinese schools to train their students for exams only, while the most efficient way to obtain success is memorization," he said.

Last year, at the launch of a China-UK exchange program for math teachers, Shen Yang, minister counselor at the Chinese embassy in Britain, said, "Through practical teaching and experience-sharing, teachers from both countries are trying to discover the differences between the two math education systems, raise standards and learn from each other."

Although some viewers felt the program hinted the UK system is better, the Chinese teachers said that they hoped viewers would watch all three episodes before passing judgment on them or the students.

Li was also unhappy about the media coverage, which she said left her feeling under great pressure. "They have only watched the program trailer and have no idea what the real situation is like. They pieced together unrelated scenes and made up a sensational story that sounds true but actually isn't," she said.

Head teacher Strowger said the experience had been invaluable for all concerned. "I've recently been contacted by one of them (the Chinese teachers), who wrote to say how much she liked the school and enjoyed her time with the children. She also thought that the experience had improved her as a teacher. Once the series has finished, we will be looking at what we can learn. I'm sure the Chinese teachers will do the same," he said.

Zhang Hao and Zhou Wenting contributed to this story.

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