Date: 08/12/2013

Global Times | 2013-12-6 0:03:01
By Global Times

Shanghai middle school students have once again led the list of top-scorers on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) among 65 countries. The students score highly when it comes to mathematics, reading and science, according to the results published by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Tuesday.

This is the second time that Shanghai students topped the list. The shock in education circles in the West seems to exceed the pride within China's education field. American students were only ranked in the middle, which adds to the sense of crisis to the American education establishment.

The Western opinion also caricatured Shanghai students as learning without thinking. But actually, the Chinese themselves criticize the country's exam-oriented education in a much harsher manner.

It is an indisputable fact that China's primary education level is relatively high, which is not a bad thing.

But such an achievement may lead us to wonder if it comes with reasonable costs. It is estimated that Chinese students spend twice as much time on basic knowledge than their foreign peers.

Education in both the West and the East has its own problems.

Western culture pays more attention to the nature of children and respects their personal growth, while Eastern culture has the tradition of learning by rote.

Neither education sphere considers itself flawless. The US has been calling for education reforms, and China is working hard to improve students' overall qualities.

China's world advantage in primary education makes it possible to carry out other education endeavors. The key is how to realize it.

China is not the only country in East Asia to emphasize high-intensity primary education. Judging from the situation in Japan and South Korea, reform of our national college entrance exams, or gaokao, can only ease the intensity but not eliminate it.

In recent years, the competition in primary education has become more and more cruel. Kids in kindergarten start to learn what they are supposed to learn at primary school. We have to admit that the essence of China's primary education is not about knowledge but competition.

In China, or even the entire Eastern community, there is a lack of resources and development is imbalanced. In such a society, it is vital for one to gain personal education superiority. For children from the bottom class, it is a decisive factor to improve their lives. As for middle-class families in big cities, they cannot lag behind their peers in terms of education.

China's primary education exam system is not perfect but can ensure fairness to some extent. That is why China's gaokao system cannot be fundamentally changed after rounds of reforms. We need to face up to the reality of China's primary education and make improvements with a realistic approach.