China and Us Education

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This analysis is being prepared for a presentation I am going to make at the International Conference on Intercultural Education in Harbin, China on June 22-24. I would be interested in receiving your observations, comments, questions about the differences between Chinese and American educational practices. 1.

Class Size is the first noticeable difference at the middle school and high school level. Teachers typically teach two classes (in an 8 period day) with from 55 to 65 students. American secondary teachers typically teach five or six classes with class sizes ranging from 25 to 30. The Chinese teachers use their non-teaching time to grade papers and to prepare for their classes, except for the head teachers (banzhuren) which will be explained later.

2.
While Americans think the "cohort" concept is innovative, China has been using it for decades. Throughout China, students beginning in a school are put into classes and they stay in those classes with one another for the entire time they are in that school unless higher test scores permit them to move to a more advanced grouping. Understood in the Chinese system is that this group of students will learn each of their subjects together. In America, students are not grouped into such classes. Instead, the 30 students who are together for English class will be randomly split up into any of the other subjects for the next period and the period after that, and so on. The next year, the students are totally mixed up again into different classes. Occasionally, the same class of students will take two courses together, such as English and history, but that is rare. The Chinese carry the cohort concept into the university level as well. My four classes of students stay together for all of their required courses the whole time they are at university.

3.
Chinese students stay in the same classroom for their main classes and their teachers come to them while American students change rooms every period and the room belongs to the teacher. Thus, Chinese students don’t have hallway lockers. Students sit in the same seats for each subject and keep their materials in a shelf under their desk top. Many students have cloth covers for their desk and other means of making it "homey".

4.
Chinese education is built on what Americans call "looping". The teachers of the students in the entering class will also follow their same students to the next grade level and the next. In America, it is very unusual for teachers to move with their students from one grade level to the next at the middle school or high school level let alone to loop for the entire period of time the student is in that school. At the primary school level, students begin in grade one with a teacher and stay with that teacher every year they are in primary school. My university students reflect on that teacher as being so very important to them that they really didn’t want to leave them when it was time to go to middle school. American teachers, on the other hand, tend to specialize in the curriculum and content for a particular grade level and then stay at that level. Sometimes, teachers who want to teach older students will ask to move to a higher grade, but then that teacher would typically stay at that level until retirement. That practice means that in America, subject matter and teacher preference might be valued more highly than student needs or student learning.

5.Another significant structural difference between American and Chinese schools is the concept of head teacher or "banzhuren". The banzhuren takes additional responsibility in delivering instruction, supervising their specific class of students, and in knowing their students and the families of the students and in communicating with those families. For less than 200 yuan per month more, the banzhuren will arrive at school prior to 7:00 a.m. to prepare for the day and to work with early arriving students. The student day...
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