Education is huge toss-up in today’s unstoppingly reforming society and workplace atmosphere. China’s educational system has been very distinct in terms of the nature of schooling. That is, due to the nature of large population, the way the education works and demand for higher levels of education has been unprecedented in certain regards. Due to the former and the latter, the competition to entering school of tertiary-education has set a standard that has trickled down through lower levels of education, primarily into Senior High School and Junior High School.
This is the case in other countries as well though. Some say that the competition level into entering a college in India is even higher. Regardless of any claims, education in the United States is also something to be looked at in terms of setting precedents of educational standards that are analyzed, mimicked, and followed throughout the globe. The competition in the US is high as well. However, because of factors different culture values, types of people, government influence, and the bars for education in the US differ.
Even more notably, the country of Taiwan has given rise to a completely new aspect of education as well. Taiwan is a fascinating case study in terms of education. Taiwan is a very small country with a population of 23 million. Put in perspective, the population of Taiwan has that of Shanghai’s. Further, I would like to note that the issue of Taiwan being a part of China and not its own country is not what will be discussed on in this paper, although it does play significance when relating education systems of China and Taiwan.
The essential focus here will be based off the differences of educational infrastructures themselves, methodologies of teachers in the classroom, perspectives of students and values of ‘education’. The nature of a country as a whole has a lot, if not all, to do with an educational system and educational structure. Therefore, these elements will be consistently integrated throughout my analysis. Also note that instead of concentrating on qualities of primary education, this paper aims to heavily lean on high school education in light of an end goal of attending a further education, and also on the college or university itself.
I have spent my majority of my career as a student in the United States, therefore having an array of experience in terms of continuing education. Also, I have been fortunate enough to spend three whole months in Taipei, the epicenter of education administration in Taiwan, at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU). There, I not only took Chinese courses to supplement my passion for Asian language and culture, but also to gain aspects of Taiwanese students before continuing my studies in Shanghai.
Though befriending many in Taiwan, I will use the knowledge and experiences I have had with them there as a large portion of my analysis of Taiwanese education. Further, I have interviewed a recent graduate who currently works for the Ministry of Education in Taiwan, a current student majoring in international business who attends National Taiwan University (Tai Da), as well as a current student majoring in Music at NTNU (Shi Da). These people, coming from different educational backgrounds, all have insights that have reflected a substantial portion of a Taiwanese students’ perspective.
Finally, given the opportunity to study in Shanghai’s most prestigious university, Fudan, I have encountered many students from both Fudan and other universities who have tremendously raised my knowledge and added to my research. China is a nightmare in terms of being accepted into a good university, let alone any university, to further a students learning. In China, wherever you attend university directly affects what you will do once you graduate. This is the basis of why there is such tight competition to get into the best university possible.
China has not always been like this though. Only relatively recently has gaining further education in China been this important, and it continues to become more and more important as time progresses. A valid reason for why this is so is due to the world becoming more global, resulting in more wanting to jump on the nonstop train, the so-called ‘globalization era’. This new era has had drastic effects on China, in particular Shanghai, Beijing, and other large-scale cities.
Also reasonably noted, many migrants are coming from their hometowns to bigger cities to find work and be part of a big city as the cities integrate to major international hubs. This background explains the thought of the people. A direct influence of this is seen in education. Government runs China’s top universities, like Taiwan. There are other private colleges and universities in China, but they are generally perceived as the low end of the spectrum in terms of quality. Regardless, government is setting the pace, the rules, the consistency, and all of the above.
That is, government has a central influence in education for its people. Chinese government openly demands particular students for its top universities. The guidelines of what they consider to be the ‘best students’ include the students who have scored the best on the national entrance exam, the gaokao, and go by the scores of that test when they analyze a student’s worthiness or ability to attend the university they like. The exam covers all aspects of a student’s knowledge ‘database’ from their respective previous educational backgrounds.
The material on what they cover on the test is the information the students have learned in particularly high school, but the ability and potential to learn this information trickles down all the way past elementary school. That is, in order to attain the best high school knowledge, you must do well in elementary school to receive admittance into the best high schools. In order to get into the elementary schools to get to the best high schools, you must attend a good pre-school, and so on.
Point being, attaining the best information to prepare you well for the gaokao is determined by all your previous schooling in some way. Therefore, pupils must start from young ages to figure out how they will be admitted to the best schools possible given their ‘potential. ’ Although the prospect of attending the best university possible is always in the back of the mind of parents of pupils in the US, the measures taken to achieve this one end goal are not nearly as extensive as those taken by parents of Chinese or Taiwanese.
The majority of parents in the US, and some even in Taiwan, believe that kids should be able to live their childhoods. They believe the kids should have fun, not stress, make as many friends as possible, be independent, and have a set of values and morals taught by family members and peers that make them more well-rounded and have a grasp on importance of things not pertaining to themselves. Chinese parents do however want their children to be well rounded. However, the definition of what is well rounded is completely different.
If a Chinese kid is lucky enough to have a ‘tiger mom’, or a mother who forces their children to do activities such as play the piano or become talented in as many areas as possible, then there is a good chance that the kid would end up in a good university, all else aside. That said, the end goal of the typical ‘tiger mom’ and the typical American ‘soccer mom’ may not be the same. That is, the former still has end goal of getting their child into a great college, while this is not necessarily the stance
taken by the latter. When compared with Taiwan, a parent is more like that of an American in that Taiwanese want their children to have independence and use their own ideas and set of moral beliefs, even in traditional families. This is possibly due to the nature of Taiwan itself in that it is know to its people as an independent country. However, in Taiwan, the rules of Asian‘culture’ still apply. They must study very hard all of their lives to get to the best school as possible.
However, because Taiwanese are not necessarily forced into any sort of classic activity since they are encouraged to be relatively independent, have their own interests and friend groups, and have their own set of values interpreted from their family’s teachings, they end up pursuing their passions and have more control and independence than a Chinese student would during their childhood. Therefore, you see many Taiwanese students majoring in and studying fields such as music, philosophy, and more liberal less direct areas.
This will be discussed further when I talk about school life itself and teachings in the classroom. But summary you should draw so far is that if a typical American childhood background is on one end of the spectrum, with a Chinese on the other, then Taiwanese childhoods are somewhere in the middle. It is also essential to analyze the topic areas and rules of the entrance exams and requirements of the three respective countries studied in this essay.
Parental influence does play a huge role in the educational life, as what the students are actually learning in the classroom to prepare for the given exams is the inner-lying reason of why and what goal oriented parents (goal being further education) are influencing their children to do during their pre-college livelihoods. Analyzing the actual material will not only explains parents’ reasoning, but also gives the basis for the next part of this paper. I will connect what the students’ educational backgrounds are to with their studies during university.
This relationship is huge, as it not only explains the differences in the reason for what is being studied, but also determines the teachers’ outlooks to what they teach in class. Of course, there are existential factors to this, as will be explained, but looking to the breakdown of these various tests and requirements for entering and being accepted to university can say a lot. As noted earlier, the national entrance exam of China is the gaokao. The test is given and administered only once per year. Therefore, students applying to enter
university must do well on that test, or else they will either not go to the university of their preference or take a year off of school and retake it the next year (people who do this is very rarely seen though). The only way to be exempt from the test is if you have extraordinary talent in another field, such as a sport, or have special factors uncontrolled by you like guanxi (connections). Even this is less seen though, especially compared to the United States. This test is comprisedof various sections. In China, different cities and regions have slight variations to test format.
However, students generally are tested on English, Chinese, a science, math, and humanities. Sciences include Physics, Chemistry, and Biology, while humanities often include History, Political Science, or a different language such as French or Spanish. Aside from the necessary areas of evaluation that are required, a student picks the topics in which they feel they have the most knowledge in, or the ones in which they are most prepared for. We can conclude from this that these topic areas are the ones that they have studied extensively for in secondary school.
Therefore, in the eyes of the Chinese, the need to do extracurricular activities for ‘fun’ or study things that they might have interest in is little to none. This ideology given the circumstance says everything for the differences and the reasons for them about Taiwan and the US. In the US, a student takes certain classes in a core curriculum with some choices known as electives. Students are encouraged to take high-level classes such as honors courses or AP courses, which are known to universities as being more difficult. If a student excels in higher-level classes, they will have a better chance of getting into a more exclusive university.
Therefore, students in US universities put a lot of thought into planning their class schedule to have a good balance between tough and easier classes to form a schedule in which they can do well (get better grades) in every class. The grades and rigor of the courses shows the university whether they are well prepared or not to attend the given university. Because the US has such a wide range of schools varying in difficulty, the US College Board decided to create a standardized test reflecting the students’ actual knowledge level of the material.
These ‘AP tests’ are good for that reason being, as they are like the gaokao in that they reflect material knowledge. However the integrity of the test itself has been put to question many times due to reasons such as unfairness since not every high school offers the courses in which they can be tested in, therefore unable to put their knowledge to a test. For this reason, these tests are taken for what they are, and other factors in terms of academic success are included when assessing a student for college entrance.
We can now derive that the difference between an academic experiences of a typical American is very different than that of a Chinese in that Chinese need to know sets of information while Americans do need to show their level of knowledge, but not necessarily in a test. Before discussing more things in which a student does in the US to portray their worthiness to attend their respective schools, it is essential to take apart testing methodology in Taiwan. The main way students are assessed for higher education in Taiwan is through their national higher education entrance exam, called the xuece for short.
The test is very much like the gaokao in that it covers all aspects of what is learned in junior high. The Committee of the Basic Competence Test determines the test. When looking at things Taiwanese study in high school, it should seem that all Taiwanese students do in previous schooling is to study for that test and forego activities they might be interested in pursuing either outside of school or relating to class topics. It is true that many do so. However, the Taiwanese continue to delve into other activities, focus on more of their interests, and live an independent life.
In fact, the exam was abolished in 2002 due to reasons of exam integrity. Although the test was only abolished very temporarily, the Ministry of Education in Taiwan came up with new solutions to lower the potential importance of the test. Included to these solutions is the zhikao. This test is basically a second chance to show what the student’s knowledge is. This test both eases the pressure to do well on the xuece, as well as lowers the initial importance level of the test. This action was a step in the right direction, because it takes a lot of the error out of reliance on one test.
That is, a student, for whatever reason, could be having a bad day on the day they have to take the gaokao, which could be the reason they scored poorly on the test. However, this obviously does not solve all the problems of the system. The bottom line is that Taiwanese have more opportunities to show schools what they know than Chinese do. Another thing along these lines is that Taiwanese students applying for higher education can also include a portfolio if need be. The portfolio can include any awards they have won, extracurricular activities they excel at, or any other things that differentiate them and make them special.
Good portions of students decide to include this, and many also decide not to. This shows that the standardized test is still the most important factor. However, they can include a portfolio that may be able to make up for any poor test score. This is perhaps the best solution of Taiwan, and is clearly an example in which Taiwan and China systems differ. In fact, the portfolio system in Taiwan is very much like the US in that people turn in their resumes to schools to show all the extracurricular activities they have done.
In the US, aside from studying for classes and the two standardized tests, the ACT and the SAT, students spend all their free time building their resume to show the extent into which they are well rounded. Because many schools believe that grades and SAT/ACT scores are not enough to determine if the person is a good fit for the schools, the resume is a large part of a person’s application to college and university. If we once again put the three countries in comparison to account for the methods used for college admittance, we see similar results that we concluded about general parental influence.
That is, if US institutions of higher education have the most ways in which they assess student value, and Chinese institutions have very little ways of doing so, Taiwan is once again somewhere in the middle. All of these previous factors directly lead into the classrooms of the respective countries. Because the countries have different requirements, influences, backgrounds, governments, and ideologies, it is no surprise that the classroom dynamics are very different as well. In China, students majors are chosen determined by their score on the Gaokao, whether they like the major or not. In the US and Taiwan, this is not the case.
This leads to students in China having to study a particular field for their whole college career with no switching. This leads to classrooms in China being filled with students who like, dislike, or are indifferent to what the class topic pertains to. This in turn affects the way the teacher proceeds to teach a class. Since the students are not all ‘on the same page’ the teacher typically gives lectures, then gives assignments including readings and homework that help students prepare for a test. If a student is disinterested in the subject and decides not to do the assignments, he will probably do poorly on the exams.
If the student is interested in the material, the student will most likely do the work to prepare. Regardless, no matter how much the teacher wants to engage a class in participation, this want is hindered by the nature of the makeup of a class. This is not always the case, but is often seen in a typical Chinese classroom. Also note this is less seen at the top Chinese Universities since the top universities have the students who did the best on the entrance exam, and therefore probably are studying what they want to study.
The US and Taiwan universities often have students who want to be there as well, thus comparing to a top university in China in that regard. One difference that is very obvious from China universities to those in Taiwan and the US is the type of education being received. That is, many US and some Taiwanese universities stress a liberal arts education or general education. In Chinese universities, we see that students learn from rote memorization. The students will memorize all the facts they need to learn for the test in order to do well. This is a common theme seen in all of China’s schools, no matter what the prestige is.
On the contrary, American universities, in particular liberal arts schools like the one I attend, stresses the importance of how to learn and expand ideologies rather than purely memorize facts. This is the key difference in education from China to the US. This arises from the whole culture behind the systems as well. In order to do well on gaokao, you must memorize a lot of facts to score high in the respective section. America is not like this. Therefore, we carry the same ideologies and methods of learning from an early age, thus affecting the educational experiences we have in college.
As according to the education lecture given by Dr. Ding supplemented by the chapters we read for the book she recommended, we see that teaching is also a fundamental difference between the countries. Ding mentions the three levels of teaching. Level 1 being on the surface, as opposed to Level 3 being deep learning. Because of rote memorization skills integrated through the lives of Chinese students, a significant portion of what the students learn tend to be a more on the surface knowledge of the material learned. This is not to say it is bad to do so. Many occupations require this type of learning and knowledge as well.
However, a typical liberal arts education in America typically has the deeper learning from more ‘Level 3’ teachers. That is, they analyze a case and throw around as many ideas as possible regarding the prompt of information told in order to gain a holistic understanding of what is being learned. When analyzing this in Taiwan, it seems that there is a mixture in between the two. That is, what teacher you get determines what style of education you will receive in that class. However, it hard to conclude anything in particular when trying to relate experience and education promoted to the level of the teacher.
Therefore, we can once again put Taiwan in the gray area between the polar ends of China and the US. Overall we can note many differences in between the education of the United States, Taiwan, and China. A large portion of how education is structured involves the schools themselves. The universities in China and Taiwan are primarily government structured. The ones in the US vary depending on whether it is a private school. The government has a huge top-down influence in China and Taiwan. This is seen in ways parents influence their students when they are younger.
It is also evident in the activities students partake in (or don’t partake in). We finally can see all of the preparation taken by students when they actually go to the universities and colleges. Testing is the key indicator of the government’s implications of education. With all of this taken into account, we can see how circular this whole process is. That is, every aspect of what governments and institutions do to ensure the best system relies on the nature of the situation, the country itself. Population has a fixed influence to this nature.
Culture has a variable influence, which depends on the era the country is facing, which influences and is affected by the global scale. Therefore, I can only conclude that the rule makers and the rule takers coexist in a society that is too engrained to begin to break. Yes, reforms to the systems do always arise, and some of these reforms are even heavily implemented. All considered it would be fascinating to see the development of the systems as times change. Comparing these three countries gives a wide range of analysis potential, as the three countries seem to be sitting on a particular part of the spectrum.