Visit to China part 4
Posted June 25, 2012
Greetings from Shanghai, China! This is the most impressive city I have ever seen. For starters, it has 23 million people within it's borders. Secondly, it is unlike any other city I have visited in China. The Huangpu River bisects the city with east on one side and west on the other. The western part of the city is the old city; however, it has a significant old European influence on it, architecturally and in many other ways. The eastern part of the city has only been built up in the last 30 years, but it's growth is meteoric! The number of skyscrapers that fill the sky on the eastern shore of the Huangpu is unbelievable. The Oriental Pearl Tower reaches highest at 468 meters high. Standing trepidatiously at the top of the observation deck (I have had a fear of heights since my earliest memories.), the view of the contrast between old and new is stunning. The old is beautiful, but much smaller in stature, than the new; it is almost as if two different cities hundreds of miles apart were suddenly placed next to each other with the river dividing them. This is my favorite city so far. I confess that it might have more to do with familiarity to me in terms of the western feel throughout the city. It is such a mix of east and west.
As I think of the contrasts I viewed in the city of Shanghai, I am reminded of the contrasts I have witnessed in the educational systems between our country and China. While I will withhold serious judgment until I have a lengthy conversation tomorrow with elementary school principals in Wuxi, China, it appears that pre-school and elementary school, which is 1st grade through 6th grade in China, is more similar to our U.S. system than the middle school and high school, but still quite different. Public education in China can not begin until the first grade; there are several private schools and international schools that include kindergarten as part of their K-12 schools. Elementary school students begin their day around 7:30 and go to school until around 4:45 or 5:00 and still have some homework. They do, however, have daily exercise or play outside. They also have some art, music, dance, and other specials. They have several classes of math and science each day and no team sports. All students in China face a rigorous entrance exam for middle school. Their scores on this exam will, in many ways, determine their career and life paths. If they do well and gain entrance into one of the top tier public or private middle schools, then they will be on track to do well on the Gaokao, the national college entrance exam. Entrance at both the middle school and college level is totally based on the performance of standardized testing: no essays, no recommendations, no grades, just the standardized test. So, while there is more of a relaxation of the rigorous standards and high volume of academics at the elementary level, schools here require much more volume and rigor in core academics than U.S. elementary schools. There is very little margin for children to play and develop in areas outside of core academics.
So, I look forward to a more in depth conversation with the elementary principals tomorrow, and I will follow up with deeper analysis of the similarities and differences of the U.S. and Chinese elementary educations. Until then, I wish you Godspeed this summer.