Education might be one of the most powerful forces that influence society, but it, in turn, is shaped by culture to a great extent. To American students, various elements of the Chinese education system may seem strange, just like Chinese students might find the characteristics of US schools unusual. This essay proposes an analysis of the school systems in China and the United States to see what makes them similar and what sets them apart.
While the two systems are considerably different, there are similarities between them. In both countries, education is considered of great importance by the government and is seen as the key to growing the economy. Furthermore, in both school systems, the grades from 1 to 12 are consider to be basic schooling. Another resemblance between the two, pointed out by the Hechinger Report, is the fact that both systems suffer from inequalities and segregation. Oftentimes, in both countries, poor or minority students end up in schools that lack resources or have sub-par or inexperienced teachers.
To what differences are concerned, the main aspect that creates a contrast between two countries is the aim of education itself. The Chinese system focuses primarily on the accumulation of knowledge, on how that knowledge is used by students in the society, and on the understanding of structures and systems. On the other hand, while American schools, too, are interested in how the knowledge acquired is used in society, they focus more on cultivating creativity, developing and challenging concepts, criticizing ideas and, generally, thinking for oneself rather than learning passively.
Furthermore, in China, math skills are considered crucial right from the beginning. Starting with elementary school and up to high school, Chinese students are not permitted to use a calculator, as doing calculus themselves helps develop a sharp and focused mind. Precision and strictness are key in the Chinese education system. In contrast, American schools do not focus as much on maths and are less strict. The focus is rather on improving self-confidence, independence and determination.
The compulsory education level also differs in the two countries. The US requires students to continue their studies until 16 or 18 years of age (depending on the state). In China, on the other hand, only 9 years of education are compulsory. Moreover, while, for American students, attending high school is a given right, Chinese teenagers must take a national test in order to enter secondary school.
Class structure and organisation also sets the two systems apart. In China, class sizes can reach even 65 students, while American classes usually have only around 25 to 30 pupils. Furthermore, the Chinese education system also entails that each class of students has a “head teacher” assigned to it, who takes responsibility for that specific class, providing instruction, supervision and counselling, communication with the children’s families, or even acting as parental support for students who need it. In America, the concept of head teacher (banzhuren) does not exist – similar support is provided, but it is usually ensured not by one person, but multiple members of the school’s staff.
All in all, there are few similarities but many differences between the education systems in China and the US. This does not mean that one system is better than the other, as the countries’ cultures are very different themselves, and what works for one may not be a good option for the other.