This summer I was lucky enough to travel to China for my doctoral program. Our trip spanned 15 days and encompassed the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, and Xi’an. During our stay in China, we had meetings with K-12 and post-secondary educators, international education attorney’s, and officials from the Confucius Institute. In this blog post, I will outline two focal points pertaining to K-12 education and higher education I was able to research and analyze over the course of the trip. In addition, I will discuss some fun sidenotes and tourist destinations we were able to visit during this trip.
Focal Point 1: K-12 Education
Admission to Higher Education. Historically in China, “students who want to go into higher learning, such as a university, must pass a number of admission exams to be given admission into a university. Based on their score, students can determine which universities they have a chance of obtaining entrance into” (Ikels, 1996, p. 168). In the past and today, for students who want to attend public universities in China, they must pass the entrance exams upon the completion of secondary school.
In China, I was able to see two private K-12 schools: Shanghai Pinghe School (SPS) and Concordia International Shanghai (CIS). Both schools differ from many public schools in China because many of the students do not take the Chinese university entrance exams (S. Su, personal communication, June 26, 2018). Instead, many of these students attend universities in the U.S. and in Europe (R. Mona, personal communication, June 26, 2018). Therefore, the university trajectories of students in China differs based on whether they attend public or private schools.
This differs from the U.S. because many students must take the SAT or ACT (i.e., Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Testing) as standardized exams to attend four-year universities upon graduating high school. However, if students do not wish to take these exams in the U.S., many schools do not require them for admission, including community colleges.
Classroom Setting. The classroom setting in K-12 schools in China looks significantly different than that of classrooms founds in the U.S. Historically, Chinese classrooms can be characterized as having forty to fifty students as well as utilizing student leaders to monitor behavior instead of the classroom teacher (Ikels, 1996). Classrooms in China are self-regulated by the students, which works because conformity and obedience are engrained in Chinese culture. In addition, within each classroom, a cohort of students travels with each other through multiple grade levels with teachers rotating into a single classroom to teach this cohort of students throughout the day (Ikels, 1996).
In China, the classroom settings we visited were varied. SPS has smaller class sizes than what Ikels (1996) describes. However, SPS utilizes student monitors to regulate discipline (S. Su, personal communication, June 26, 2018). At CIS, neither of the classroom settings as described by Ikels (1996) exist. CIS being an international school, which is structured and organized like K-12 schools found in the U.S. (R. Mona, personal communication, June 26, 2018). Also, both SPS and CIS are considered private schools. Therefore, since SPS and CIS are private schools, the class sizes of each school are much smaller than public schools in China and in the U.S.
When comparing K-12 schools in China to schools in the U.S., SPS is a better school to make comparisons to than CIS. SPS utilizes many classroom settings we see across China like student monitors, cohorts, and rotating classroom teachers exist at SPS. In the U.S., none of these classroom settings exist.
Curriculum. Within China, the curriculum of K-12 education is dictated by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Beijing (S. Su, personal communication, June 26, 2018). According to Ikels (1996), there is a national curriculum for elementary and middle schools in China. However, standards of student achievement are set locally by the city and the school district (Ikels, 1996). SPS is mandated by the MOE to use seventy percent of the national curriculum. SPS is given some freedom regarding their curriculum because thirty percent of the curriculum can be created by their own school-site (S. Su, personal communication, June 26, 2018).
When comparing the curriculum in China to that of the U.S., it differs on the grounds where and how policy regarding curriculum is developed. For example, in China, the curriculum is developed by the MOE in Beijing by the central government. In the U.S., education is primarily a State and local responsibility for establishing “schools and colleges, developing curricula, and determining the requirements for enrollment and graduation” (US Department of Education, 2018).
Focal Point 2: Higher Education
University Tuition Subsidization. Over the course of the last thirty years, the number of universities in China has expanded significantly. As a result, there are more open spots for students to attend institutions of higher education. However, historically when there were fewer universities and slots for university-bound students. Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, students who are subsidized by the government had modest tuition while students who are not subsidized by the government had to pay full tuition (Ikels, 1996). This means a small portion of students attending university had their tuition and living expenses significantly covered by the Chinese government for students who scored well on the university entrance exams. On the other hand, students who did not score as high as the students who did on the university entrance exams did not receive government tuition assistance and had to pay for tuition and living expenses themselves.
Currently, similar tuition subsidization practices for university students exist in China. During a visit to Eastern China Normal University (ECNU), we learned subsidized student tuition ranges from full tuition to only partially covering tuition. Today, tuition rates are much higher than they were in the 1980’s and 1990’s because of the expansion of student enrollment, which resulted in more students than before paying full tuition in China for a university education since there were more available seats to be filled for those willing to pay (C. Wang, personal communication, June 27, 2018).
When comparing university tuition subsidization in China to how it is done in the U.S., there are a few differences and similarities that stand out. In the U.S., federal and state government tuition aid is based on need instead of merit. In China, this does not exist because financial aid is not provided based on a family’s socioeconomic status. However, like China, both public and private universities in the U.S. offer many scholarships based on merit (e.g., standardized test scores, grade point average, etc.), which is used to subsidized tuition for students partially or provide full tuition.
University Entrance Exams. To attend university in China, students must score high scores on entrance exams (Ikels, 1996). These entrance exams are in the subjects of math, Chinese, English, and science (Ikels, 1996). Historically, there were a smaller number of seats to be filled at universities in China. In addition, based on a student’s score, the government would provide a subsidized tuition for the student if the student scored above a certain threshold.
Today, the university entrance exam retains its importance to students who want to pursue a university education. After visiting ECNU, we learned students who score higher on the entrance exam will be accepted into more universities, desired university degree problems, and will have a better chance at receiving government money to subsidize their education (C. Wang, personal communication, June 27, 2018). Thus, the university entrance exam determines the trajectory of a Chinese student’s university education admission and financing their education.
Students in the U.S. do not have to take university entrance exams to attain entrance into all universities. Rather, students have two options, graduate high school and attend community college or take the SAT and/or ACT exam and graduate from high school to attend a four-year university. Therefore, the major difference between the U.S. and China regarding this topic is students in China must take the university entrance exam to attend an institution of higher education.
College Graduate Job Prospects. Historically, before and during many of the economic reforms in China of the 1980’s, “university graduates were overwhelmingly likely to be assigned to the state sector, especially to work units with limited opportunities for economic growth, such as schools or administrative offices” (Ikels, 1996, p. 172). Now, Chinese students have many options for employment outside of the public sector. According to ECNU, many Chinese universities have around an eighty percent job placement rate. Most students obtain jobs in the private sector, but, in some professions like teachers and nurses, they are primarily placed by the state into work units (C. Wang, personal communication, June 27, 2018).
When comparing the job prospects of university graduates in the U.S. and in China, the employment rate of graduates is similar. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Education, eighty-eight percent of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree are employed while China’s is eighty percent (NCES, 2016). What appears to be a similar theme in both countries is that university graduates are not obtaining high paying jobs after graduating. Therefore, underemployment is an area each country must tackle because it is a widespread problem affecting millennials purchasing power and indebtedness.
Sidenotes and Tourist Destinations
There are several interesting sidenotes I must add about China. Culturally, China is extremely diverse with many different ethnicities, languages, traditions, and food that encompass the entire country. In regards to tourist destinations and attractions, we were able to visit and experience The Bund (Shanghai), Old City (Shanghai), Water Village (Shanghai), Shanghai Circus, Shanghai Tower, Confucius Temple (Qufu), Forbidden City (Beijing), Tea Tasting (Beijing), Papercutting (Beijing), Great Wall (Beijing Area), Terracotta Soldiers (Xi’an), and Muslim Quarter (Xi’an).
Food. China’s food is extremely diverse. I enjoyed how there were many Middle Eastern food influences in Western Chinese food. Seeing a Middle Eastern style Kabob along with Chinese noodles was interesting and delicious. I also enjoyed Beijing Duck in Beijing along with various types of Dumplings in Shanghai. In Xi’an I enjoyed large Dumplings with cloves and spices; I think those were some of the best I’ve had in the world. Lastly, the street food was delicious; especially in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an. So many options from fresh fruit, fried seafood, kabobs, juices, candies, and other treats.
Cultural Differences. Here are some cultural differences that I will summarize. Personal space is at a premium in China. Lines are somewhat foreign to Chinese unless there are supervised. Asking to get your picture taken with Chinese (as a westerner), was strange at first. Overall, even with some cultural differences, we were treated very nicely by the Chinese. We had no issues whatsoever and had first class service throughout the duration of the trip!
Recommended Destinations. My favorite tourist attractions and places in China are the following: Terracotta Soldiers, The Bund, Muslim Quarter in Xi’an, the Great Wall, Water Village, and Old City Shanghai. Each was very unique and had noteworthy cultural elements and historical places in China’s history.
From this experience, the realization of how I deal with cultural diversity in my profession has been affected. Traveling teaches me to lay down my assumptions and research and experience other cultures before making any conclusions. Experiences like our trip to China make one realize the discipline of education must be seen through many different lenses, which allows me to see the variety, uniqueness, and creativity we see in different educational systems around the world.
I hope to take what I have learned from Chinese society to further expand my horizons in my understanding of the field of education. Experiencing a different society and culture allows me to question the “what” and “why” in our own society and culture. Overall, this trip reinforces the importance of taking what we have learned from another society and synthesizing their ideas with ours to create the best solutions for the problems we face.
Ikels, C. (1996). The return of the god of wealth: The transition to a market economy in urban China. Stanford, Calif: Stanford Univ. Press.
Philips, R. A., & Kim, E. P. (2016). Business in contemporary China. New York, NY: Routledge.
Busis, L, W. (2018). Section 301 investigation: China’s acts, policies, and practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation. Retrieved 12 July 2018, from https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/intellectual_property_law/advocacy/advocacy-20171927-comments.authcheckdam.pdf
U.S. Department of Education. (2018). Federal role in education. Retrieved 10 July 2018, from https://www.2.ed.gov
National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Fast facts. Retrieved 10 July 2018, from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=561