China Teaching Youth to Calculate, Not Innovate

As China’s economy shows clearer signs of a slowdown, with GDP growth expected to cap at under 7%, the country will now rely increasingly on its greatest investment—the Chinese youth. However, though the Chinese have advocated for a strong education system that is serving to fuel the country’s developing economy, there is growing concern about the lack of individualism being promoted through the rigid style of Chinese education and its potentially detrimental impact on the future workforce.

These critics suggest that the current system, which enforces rote and repetitive learning, instead should instill a more holistic approach to educating the young in China. Schools require extensive note-taking among students, as Chinese believe that rote memorization teaching methods enable children to learn at a better and faster pace. Students arrive at school at 7AM for a 12-hour school day that includes various physical exercises to maintain focus, as well as two breaks for meals and exercise.

Even President Xi Jinping, when recently asked if the current education system was healthy for Chinese youngsters, said: “Chinese children do not play enough. They should play more.” These children were born during the one-child policy era, placing enormous expectations on them to achieve success and properly represent their family names into the future. These expectations include strong academic achievements, as high exam scores are regularly associated with social status and success. In a country with more than 192,000,000 children—a fifth of the world’s youth—there is enormous pressure and competition.

Elementary students in China's Sichuan Province read and recite from standardized textbooks
Elementary students in China’s Sichuan Province read and recite from standardized textbooks

The Chinese system differs greatly from that of the West, where teaching styles are far more interactive and encourage students to participate in class and form individual opinions. Though China contains many outstanding universities and good secondary education, most students are strong in math and science, but lack the opportunity to explore talents in creative and humanities subjects. While computer capabilities have become incredibly advanced in the 21st century, “human” qualities must also continue be emphasized in the education system—qualities that have never and will never be replicated or replaced by computers.

Placing a larger emphasis on individualism in the Chinese education system is also important in helping to shape strong social skills for Chinese as they prepare for the workforce. Many experts suggest that the ability to form individual opinions about ideas learned through schooling is an important part of building confidence into adult and professional life.

Neglecting to encourage such individualism among youth in China through the current system may negatively impact the country’s ability to innovate and create new sectors and services in the coming generation—during a time when China stands at the forefront of many important global initiatives and technologies due to its emergence as an economic powerhouse. Should China fail to enhance creative and innovative learning in its education system, the country may face serious problems into the future.

About the author:

David Solomon, a 2013 graduate of Skidmore College, lived in China for three years, where he pursued Mandarin language, history, political, and environmental studies at Tsinghua University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, and Suzhou University. He has also worked in Chinese economic development and has traveled extensively throughout China and other parts of Asia. David currently resides in Washington, D.C., where he works in U.S.-China trade relations.


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