What is the difference between Chinese and American education?

What is the difference between Chinese and American education?

Juliana Liu, Senior Editor, Inkstone at South China Morning Post

Answered Jul 6, 2018

I have three kids. The elder two are in kindergarten in the local system in Hong Kong and the youngest starts pre-nursery in the fall, so it’s all giving me direct insight into the Chinese system. (The Hong Kong system isn’t exactly the same as the system in mainland China, but it’s analogous.)

In the early years, the biggest difference between the Chinese and American education system is: learning Chinese. Specifically, learning how to write Chinese characters. Simply put, the nature of the Chinese language requires kids to learn how to write by rote. For my son, this started when he was barely three years old, in the first year of kindergarten. He frankly didn’t have enough coordination or attention span to do it properly at his age. As he was the youngest in his grade, we had him repeat a year. And with daily help from a tutor, he’s now doing great and wowing us with Chinese writing. I’m shocked that he can recognize and write about 100 characters at age 5.

But, yeah, this wouldn’t be possible without a daily tutor. Is this unusual? Not as unusual as you’d think. If you don’t get a tutor, then somebody at home has to do these writing drills with the kids. Not every single school demands this, but in general, Chinese kids in Hong Kong have to be able to write between 200 to 300 characters by the end of kindergarten. And by the end of primary, they’re supposed to know 1,000 to 1,200 characters. Becoming literate in a language like Chinese is fundamentally different from becoming literate in English, which is a phonetic language.

I was born in China, and moved to Texas when I was seven years old, not speaking any English. I was fluent in English in about a year, and fully literate (for my age) very soon after. I think this would be pretty impossible the other way around, purely due to the rote nature of Chinese writing.

And don’t even get me started on the differences between the traditional and simplified writing systems. I thought I was so clever in naming my eldest “dragon” in Chinese. In simplified characters, the word is composed of only five strokes. In traditional characters, it’s like 14 strokes. Since we live in Hong Kong, we use traditional characters. My poor baby. He’s long been able to write his name in English. But we’re still working on the Chinese. Facepalm.

As kids progress through the education system in China, though, the differences with the US system really emerge. The main difference is that the Chinese system is entirely test based. The ultimate test is the annual national college entrance exam. Wealthier families have options (as they always do), but for the vast majority of Chinese kids, this is a make-or-break exam.

It’s basically 12 years of schooling culminating in a nine-hour test. The stress and pressure are incredible. Teenagers practice for years to take the test. Inkstone ran a week-long series of reports on the test, known as the gaokao, in early June, as it was being administered.

Our entire series is here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

We were hoping to do a follow-up story with one of the students we profiled, but unfortunately, he didn’t do so well on the test, so we couldn’t do our follow up. I guess he’ll take the test again next year.


Shulammite Hu, studied Hebrew at Beijing International Studies University

Updated Jan 3 2018

I think the major differences between education are as follow:

1.The goal of education. In China the main purpose is to let students learn as much as possible, knowledge is the most important. However in America, they mainly focus on creativity.
2.Courses. Chinese schools seldom offer optional courses, while the American one’s usually have a lot. Also some subjects are different, for example in China students need to learn politics and the Americans usually need to study religion.
3.Study patterns. Mostly, Chinese students study things deeper, but study less things, and the American students study more things but they don’t dig that deep, but know the basics instead.
4.Schools. Both countries have private schools and public schools, however in America only the rich can go to private schools where has a better environment, while others can only go to public schools where the teachers are less responsible and the students are not that interested in study, so the ordinary people have fewer chance to get a better and higher education. In China, usually the top schools are public schools where everyone can attend as long as you are good enough, so perhaps it is more equal in this aspect.
5.Education system. The Chinese have 6 years of elementary school, 3 years in junior high school, 3 years in high school and normally 4 years in university, while in America the number is 5, 3, 4, 4. Also it is said that in China it is hard to get into a university but easy to get out, however America is on the contrary.
In conclusion, since China has a really large population and the fairest way to distinguish the outstanding is to see their scores, so in China people concern more about the score, knowledge and those things written in the books but ignored students ability. Anyway China has carried out a series of reforms in education and it will definitely carry out more in order to catch up with the western world.

Every educational system has its pros and cons, but I can’t deny that the American ones is still be considered as the best one in the world.

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