Elementary and Secondary School Curriculum in China: Perspective and Takeaway
Above is a schema adapted from a presentation given at a Globalization and Higher Education conference I attended at Shanghai Jiao Tong University's (SJTU) Institute for Higher Education. The Institute is best known for its index of Academic Rankings of World Universities. The schema is from a presentation delivered by a boisterous and at times entertaining professor, Dr. Zhao Zhongjian from the Institute of Curriculum and Instruction, East China Normal University.
Zhao's presentation, "Elementary and Secondary School Curriculum in China," began with an overview of Chinese curriculum since 1949. The above slide caught my eye and in terms of curriculum seems to sum up where China has been and the where China intends to go. Zhao's work suggests that changes in China's curricula reflect the needs of the new economy. He offers a little history.
Zhao divides Chinese curricula post 1949 into 4 periods.
- Learning from the former Soviet Union (1949-1957)
- The Sinofication of education (1957-1966)
- Ten years of Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)
- The new era of education (1970-Present; broken into 4 subgroups)
- (1976-1984) post Cultural Revolution
- (1985-1991) The Decision on the Reform of Educational System (1985) stated "our country is a vast but imbalanced one in its economic and cultural development levels" and so "the educational contents, methods" and "development paces and approaches" "should be in line with local conditions"
- (1992-1999) In 1992 the 14th National Conference of the Party decided a socialist market economy should be established. Three overarching goals were published in Outline for Reform and Development of Education in China: quickly change the centralized system; make the educational system reflect the market-oriented economy and subsequent social development; and keep the system Chinese at the core.
- (1999-present) China publishes Decision on the Deepening Educational Reform and Promoting Qualities Education which formally recognizes three levels of education in need of coordination: national, local, and school curricula.
I believe that some of the best curricula in America currently reflect where Zhao thinks China needs to go. He identifies major changes underway or in ideation in China: from elite education to mass education; from science-centered curriculum (treatment education, training) to social constructivism-centered curriculum (integrated knowledge, community of learners); and from infusion-centered teaching to discourse-centered teaching.
Zhao's language is abstract and imprecise, and probably suffers from some translation troubles, but his ideas make sense to teachers who have taught using both models of education. And I believe Zhao's ideas make some sense to those of us who learned by doing and working with others rather than just listening or memorizing facts out of books.
The takeaway for me is that China, in its aggressive pursuit of economic prosperity and advantage, is identifying with western models of education, in particular, American models. China is changing its schools to mirror the needs of a developed nation, with emphasis on decentralization. Researchers in China are monitoring U.S. reforms and debate involving school-based management, charter schools, and private management of public schools.
Not surprising there were Americans at the Globalization in Higher Education Conference who believed that China is sacrificing too much of its own education history and identity in its quest to match its education with its economy. So while some of my American colleagues want American education to reflect more ideas and methods from Chinese education, Chinese education is increasingly reflecting ideas and methods from American education. More on that in a later installment.