Academic journal article New Waves

The Convergence of Divergent Roads: Comparisons of China and U.S. School Systems

Academic journal article New Waves

The Convergence of Divergent Roads: Comparisons of China and U.S. School Systems

Article excerpt

Introduction

While American politicians are excoriating American education and moving to nationalize learning through the Common Core States Standards Initiative, the Chinese government is quietly changing their nationalized curriculum (Yang & Frick, 2007). The ultimate goal-build more creativity in Chinese students who are historically high performing in international assessments (Adams & Sargenty, 2012). Chinese students outperform American peers on international tests in mathematics and literacy, but are purported not to be as creative, innovative, entrepreneurial and therefore do not produce as many inventions and patents (Chen, 2004; Dello-Iacovo, 2009; Xiao-jiang & Xue-ting, 2012; Xu, 2007; Zhao, 2012).

Educational reform is targeted in both the United States and China (Coppola & Zhao, 2012; McKinsey Global Initiative, 2010). Chinese schools are heavily structured; less curricular structure is desired as Chinese students perform exceptionally academically but are less creative (Walker & Qian, 2012). American schools are less structured with individual states, districts, and schools making curriculum decisions, but American students do not perform as well as peers on international assessments of learning (Kelly & Turner, 2009). New federal policies driven by the Common Core States Initiative were designed to add more structured grade level curricula for American students in order to provide a workforce ready to compete in the global marketplace (Hanushek, Peterson, & Woessman, 2012; U. S. Department of Education, 2011).

Historically, the U.S. educational system has produced skilled high school and college graduates who positioned the American economy as the best in the world (Connelly & Zheng, 2003). With American productivity falling, business and political leaders as well as foundations are frantically pushing educators to ensure that American students can be as innovative and competitive as they were in the 20th century (Advisory Commission on Measuring Innovation in the 21st Century Economy, 2008; U.S. Department of Commerce, 2012).

In China, the degree of educational competition is increasingly severe and furious (Gu, 2006). However, the basic problems in education constitute a serious social issue which is subject to disparaging and acquisitive public commentary (Jin, 2005). However, the often hostile criticism of education is interconnected to inequalities, indiscriminate fees, and the largely unscientific examination systems that dominate Chinese education (Hui, Lee & Rousseau, 2004). Providing education to the many segments of the Chinese population means confronting inequalities intensely engrained in history, culture and economic elements (Li, 2005).

In recent years in China, there has been growing apprehension that examination competition has contaminated classroom teaching and learning and created a culture of competition that was detrimental to developing a global knowledge economy (Qi, 2007). These concerns spawned education reforms known as the New Curriculum (Xu, 2007). These reforms were intended to make students the center of teaching and learning. In addition, the reforms focused on transforming teaching and learning to foster creativity, innovation, collaboration, and self-expression (Xie, 2001). The continual implementation of reform policies has fostered a new outlook in Chinese schools but the continued reform applications have profoundly changed schools and caused great anxiety among teachers (Zhu & Han, 2006).

The Chinese government promotes a revised school curriculum reflecting a more complete approach to education known as suzhi jiaoyu ("quality education") (Jia, 2006). The massive educational reforms place education in the Chinese historical, educational, social and economic framework which is not conducive to change (Curran, 2005). The implementation of the reforms is constrained by insufficient resources (financial and human), academic ambiguity and conformist opposition (Guan & Meng, 2007). …

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