Chinese medicine for American schools

Last month, the Asia Society published the report, "Math and Science Education in a Global Age: What the U.S. Can Learn from China." It notes that China educates 20 per cent of the world's students with 2 per cent of the world's education resources. And the report finds many potential lessons in China's rigorous math and science programs, says Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times.

Yet, there isn't any magic to it:

  • One reason Chinese students learn more math and science than Americans is that they work harder at it. They spend twice as many hours studying, in school and out, as Americans.

  • Chinese students, for example, must do several hours of homework each day during their summer vacation, which lasts just two months. In contrast, American students have to spend each September relearning what they forgot over the summer.

  • China's government has developed a solid national curriculum, so that nearly all high school students study advanced biology and calculus. In contrast, only 13 per cent of American high school pupils study calculus, and fewer than 18 per cent take advanced biology.

    According to Kristof, American students can not replicate their Chinese counterparts' drive even if they wanted to, but there are lessons Americans can learn – like the need to shorten summer vacations and to put far more emphasis on math and science.

    During the Qing Dynasty that ended in 1912, China was slow to learn lessons from abroad and adjust its curriculum, and it paid the price in its inability to compete with Western powers. These days, the tables are turned, and now we need to learn from China, says Kristof.

    Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, Chinese Medicine for American Schools, New York Times, June 27, 2006; and Math and Science Education in a Global Age: What the U.S. Can Learn from China, Asia Society, May 2006.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 04 July 2006
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