Education, Chinese Style

The NYT Sunday magazine has an interesting article by Ann Hulbert, Re-Education, on the Chinese education system. Two great graphics accompany the article. The lettering is by Leanne Sharpton.

For my money, the key paragraph is this:

Chinese routinely say they wish the exam weren’t such a monolithic force, and various provinces have lately been allowed to offer their own versions. Yet bigger changes — like Fudan University’s use last year of broader criteria and a totally different test to admit some 300 students — stir concern. In a country so huge — and in a culture so steeped in cronyism — the fear is that no other process could work as fairly. Meanwhile, the success of China’s educational expansion hasn’t eased gaokao panic, and in fact has made the secondary-school exam a newly fraught hurdle. The unforseen pressures have unfolded this way: As the number of college graduates has outpaced the growth in desirable high-level jobs, generally located in China’s developed eastern region, one result has been a surge of unemployment among degree holders who resist settling for less. Along with that has come a rise in qualifications for lower-level jobs that once didn’t require a college diploma.

This paragraph combines two problems with the Chinese education system: focus on test-taking and that the rapid expansion of colleges has led to there being more graduates than jobs requiring a college education. I’ve already written about the second problem in a recent post that is hidden way down on the blog due to the fact that I started it nearly a year ago.

The gaokao – the college admission test – is full of problems and yet colleges exclusively base admissions decisions on it. This encourages a system of education that focuses on memorization and test-taking. Chinese being a character-based language already requires quite a bit of recitation and drilling. The problem is that there is no real alternative to the exam. More subjective admissions criteria would open the back door and let connections (already pervasive in the business/political world) into the academic one as well.

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