Research-Oriented Education in China

Although the lower rungs of education in China might outperform American education by a country mile (on performance-based criteria anyways) tertiary education in China can be laughable at times.

Disclaimer: I am in no way categorically bashing the education system. It has serious merits that I could go on and on about. China is home to some of the best engineers and software developers and rocket scientists in the world. It is home to sheer brilliance on a massive scale. But it doesn’t mean you cannot reflect on the education system.

Almost every college-graduate I’ve met here has told me stories about it. I’ve been told about English Ph.D.’s who have absolutely abysmal oral English, because the standards are Antarctically low. The final assignment of a 20-year education in China is a research paper, something for which they have literally never been trained how to do. The majority of people I’ve spoken with simply do not have periodic research assignments the way we do in the West. The education system is in no way geared for the final assessment of that very education. Makes sense, right? Cheating is rampant, and standards for stamping it out are pretty low.

Honestly if China wants its universities to be more universally acclaimed, it needs to reorient its entire education system to be more research-based. Most students cannot find their own answers; they are told their answers. This is a hackneyed analysis of Chinese education, but it will persist for the foreseeable future barring serious change.

If I do informal language exchanges with students, who have perfectly serviceable language ability, mind you, they literally cannot respond to anything I say with anything more substantive than a grunt acknowledging that I just made words happen. But retooling the students with these skills could potentially undermine the Communist Party’s legitimacy, and this ignorance-is-bliss mentality is eaten hook, line and sinker by more than a few people I’ve met. Maybe it’s right. Maybe it’s wrong.

Maybe I’m placing the industry on a higher pedestal than it deserves, but basically education shapes a country’s future, full stop. Education, both formal and informal, shapes and informs its citizenry.

So take America, for example. Think back to your schooling. In no way do the American primary or secondary education systems adequately cover Islam. It is not taught on almost any level or in any depth. For me, it was only briefly discussed, because in truth, in retrospect, I don’t think a single one of my teachers, save one, even understood it themselves.

And yet we have a religion that many Americans consider public enemy number one, and people go on about its inherent perils. If the education in American systemically avoids the topic, then that shapes our public opinion. It is indicative of how people will react. If you teach Islam more in depth, there will be more understanding. Simple as that. (Just an example.) I’m not saying one way or another what our foreign policy or immigration policy should be. But, if it’s going to be a nationwide debate, we must be informed on it.

If you go back through any empire, any country, any entity and you look at its education, it is often informative of the policy of the government and the direction that country would take over the subsequent decades. Look at the late Ottoman Empire’s Tanzimat Reforms in education. The Qing dynasty’s imperial examinations in China. The ability to alter history textbooks in the Jim Crow era South. It had and has lasting effects on the citizenry.

As long as China continues this policy in its education, there will be a dearth of Chinese students capable of research-oriented work compared to peer countries.


Let me know your thoughts on the Chinese education system in the comments below!

Like what you’re reading on China? Check out some other related articles in: The China Chronicles!


(image source for featured image)

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