Should we learn from Shanghai – if, what and why

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with colleague from Shanghai who was hoping to forge links between schools in UK cities and schools in China.

Her perspective was fascinating, in short one of the main drivers for this was that the Chinese authorities have come to the conclusion that their education system is brilliant at producing youngsters who can do well at tests but far less effective fostering skills such as creativity. The Chinese authorities have recognised this and concluded that things must change.

Change? Change?! Hang on a minute – in the UK we are changing to be more like the Chinese system. Evidence for a need to make such a change lie, so we are told in the PISA league tables:

Of course, creativity is difficult to measure – but it is a skill that is valued all the same.

As my visitor walked around my school she enthusiastically filmed class room layout and wall displays whilst recording a commentary for the children in China. She marvelled at the children’s confidence and their ease around visitors.

I couldn’t help wonder if we need to pause for reflection as a nation and consider what our education system does incredibly well that makes us the envy of China.

An open question about the full value of a knowledge over skills curriculum – the Chinese have it and are, according to my guest, seeking to rebalance it.

Perhaps it is possible to consider the long term evidence of the impact an education system can have on its nation and pause to consider whether a standardised score or a yearly position on an international league table is all the evidence we need.

A further and final thought is this, the polarisation of the education debate “Progressive vs Traditionalist” is neat – but misses the point. The Chinese are highly unlikely to abandon all that they have achieved in favour of brain gym and VAK – but their education system will make progress and in doing so meet the needs of a nation.

@Oldandrewuk defined a traditionalist not as one who yearns for the past but as one who seeks to pass down a tradition. Seen in this way in conjunction with the views of my visitor, perhaps the how is as important as the what if the tradition is to endure.


3 thoughts on “Should we learn from Shanghai – if, what and why

  1. My fantastic but long retired art teacher from the early 70’s said recently “it seems a bit obvious to me, we taught ‘you’ and mostly enjoyed it, teachers today teach ‘the curriculum’ and mostly don’t”.

    Surprisingly it is relatively easy to value and measure creativity, take a look at the work of TERU at Goldsmiths

    I like the logic of your argument re tradition and I vote for the well established tradition in British schools of ‘project based learning’

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