I began working in China in 1998 and I just returned from my 18th trip. Reflecting over those many years I realized that certain qualities about education in China stand out. I know how foolish it is to speak in such broad and general terms but I want to share with you what I noticed back in 1998 and what I continue to notice in 2013. A recent article in the NYT, The Shanghai Secret flagged some observations I also hold about the attitude and application of certain educational beliefs of the Chinese. First there is a deep, commitment to teacher training, which encourages peer-to-peer learning and professional development. Second, there is a deep involvement of parents in their children's learning. Third, this is a culture that prizes education and respects teachers. Emphasis is put on giving teachers time to deepen their knowledge of what they are teaching along with professional development that fine tunes their teaching skills. In addition, schools emphasize "parent training."
Parents of young children often ask me what schools are best for their child. I don't have a specific answer but I tell them to pay attention to how schools value and support their school community. First, how much of a priority does the school give to professional development? Second, what kind of Parent Ed does the school provide? Thirdly, look at the degree of parental involvement. Studies have found that parental engagement is a reliable indicator of a child’s success in school.
American education might lag behind in certain areas and we have much to learn from other countries but I always return to my work here in the US with a sense of pride in what we do best. I know of no other culture that prizes creativity and innovation, which are our strengths. If we can learn from the Chinese and apply the three criteria they apply to education, we will have a winning equation and other countries will continue to look to learn from our strengths.