While American kids don't work as hard as the Chinese, they have the edge in creativity, an educator from China says.
To let the experts tell it, the U.S. education system is in decline and threatens our economic vitality and standing in the world. Other nations such as China may whisk pass us on the strength of their better schools and more diligent students.
That's not exactly how Cao Li sees it. Li teaches high school English at a prestigious school in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province in China. She is in the United States for a few months on a teacher exchange program through the Minnesota Department of Education.
On Thursday, she offered some observations and insights she's garnered since arriving here earlier this year and visiting various grade levels at the White Bear Lake schools, which are hosting her.
Q What strikes you about the differences with teachers and teaching between the U.S. and China?
A In China, teachers are more strict with students about discipline and academic standards. Here teachers are more tolerant. Teachers in China usually try to present more information and students are required to learn more. Not just more information, but more difficult concepts.
We usually have bigger classes, usually over 40 students. But smaller in foreign language classes, which usually have 20 to 22 students because we want to make sure everyone will get a chance to speak to practice using the language.
Q What do you see as the best attributes of the U.S. education system?
A You set realistic goals for kids and you emphasize creativity and realizing student potential. You cultivate other ways of thinking rather than having students memorize things. You also have students do community work so they can learn social responsibility. In China, we just focus on academic studies.
Q Do students here study as hard as students you taught in China?
A The students here don't study as hard as my students. I think because of the large population in China, there is more competition between young people, and also because of our culture. In the Chinese culture knowledgeable people are highly respected.
Q What would you do to improve the U.S. education system?
A It's almost perfect, but maybe sometimes you need to set a lot higher academic standards, or requirements, for students and encourage them to face the real competition in society to some degree. We encourage kids to go through these difficulties because we believe these difficulties will be their wealth in the future.
Q Should U.S. students be encouraged to take more world languages classes?
A Yes. I hope that the American kids can have more exposure to Chinese language because in the future there will be more cooperation between the two countries and communication between the two countries, so that will be good for peoples of both countries.
Q People criticize the U.S. education system for falling behind China and the rest of the world. How does the U.S. compare?
A America is still advanced in many ways, especially because they teach in a creative way. I think creativity is the competitive edge of the American educational system. It's very advanced.
Gregory A. Patterson • 612-673-7287