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December 29, 2016

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Home » Opinion » Chinese Views

Experts stress role of local culture and personal identities in globalized education

AS more and more Chinese parents are sending their children abroad or letting them study in international courses at an earlier age, some educators warn that they should not let their children break from their Chinese roots.

“Our children should have their roots in China but walk on roads all over the world,” said Zhang Yang, CEO of Jiazhangbang, a popular educational mobile phone application. “And international education should prepare them for that.”

The increasing demand for international education is obvious.

I have repeatedly heard from local parents that they would like to send their children abroad at a young age so they can adapt to the international education system and society before their personality and habits form. Some others said they would prefer to have their children take international courses here to better connect with future education abroad.

A recent report by the Independent Schools Council of the UK showed that the number of Chinese students in British independent schools has doubled in the past five years, while those attending summer camps in the UK has also soared in recent years.

According to the British Council, there are now over 270 international course programs or schools jointly operated by China and UK, attended by over 57,000 Chinese students.

Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) also said in a report that it received more than 86,000 entries for its qualification tests in China this year, up 11 percent from last year.

About 200 schools in China are offering Cambridge program and qualifications and dozens are expected to be added annually in the coming years, according to Eric Ding, Northeast Asia regional director of CIE.

Popular choice

“International education in China has slowly changed from being something for only a small group to being the popular choice of the middle class and above,” Melvyn Goh, CEO of Forbes China, said with the release of the second annual edition of the International Education Guide with Elite Education Group on December 11.

“And the objective of education gradually changed from going abroad by any means to opting to acquire knowledge and skills,” he added. “It brought about an overall change of personality, becoming a better person with a sense of social responsibility and greater knowledge, a well-rounded individual who can contribute to the society.”

In some local schools, some international courses were originally imported as supplements, but things seem have gone out of control, as Chinese courses become marginalized, while some international courses are being used without any modifications in view of local conditions.

Some parents say that they want their children to focus on international courses as they hope to go to overseas colleges, either to avoid the stressful gaokao (matriculation examination) in China, or to enroll them in world-class universities.

But the Shanghai Education Commission recently ordered local schools not to flout regulations to reduce compulsory Chinese courses because they are required by China’s compulsory education law.

Right direction

Michael Meng-de Yi, general principal of the Elite Education Academy schools, said at the release conference for the 2017 Forbes International Education Guide that the regulation was not an obstacle for international education in China, but the right direction for its development and healthy growth of children. “Neither merely exporting students nor importing international courses is the right answer to international education for Chinese students,” he said.

Meanwhile, international education alone may lead to a breaking away from Chinese culture and problems with self-identity, which are important for a person’s life-long development.

When breaking away from their Chinese roots, children may feel like the middle layer of a sandwich as they can neither find a sense of belonging in China nor integrate into Western society immediately.

He pointed out that for those planning to study overseas, given the development of China, most Chinese children will probably continue to be in close contact with their homeland even though they might work outside the country.

“It is important that they should keep their Chinese roots,” he said. “Only when you find your own voice, can you raise your voice and be heard.”

He cited the importance of passing on Chinese tradition to posterity, particularly in view of the fact that some Chinese are taking a growing interest in Western festivals, such as Christmas.

In cultural clashes between West and East, the West as a rule gains the upper hand, Yi observed, adding that this is evidenced not only in festivals, but also in movies, fashion and other areas.

If the young people today fail to lay a solid grounding in native culture, they will likely grow up estranged to traditional outlook and attitudes.

Lin Min, principal of Shanghai Xiwai International School, agreed, stressing that parents should exercise greater care in deciding how to prepare their children for overseas study.

Both Yi and Lin were born in China but have lived in America for decades.

“Internationalization, or globalization, is not to simply turn our children into little Americans, or Brits, or others,” he said. “Actually, with Chinese faces, it is difficult for Chinese children to fully integrate into the Western society. Chinese Americans, after so many generations, are still struggling to be accepted.”

“The purpose of accessing international education is to experience Western civilization and learn its advantages to help develop China,” he added. “So I think internationalization means integration of the West and East. Hence the coinage of ‘glocalization’.”

Lin then stressed the merits of Chinese education, as he mentioned a program that enabled British math teachers to come to Shanghai to learn math teaching in local schools, while Shanghai teachers were invited to the UK to show British teachers their teaching methods. The program was launched two years ago after Shanghai students topped the 2012 international PISA tests for math, while the UK ranked 26th. The third round of exchanges is happening this year.

Lin said that Chinese education was good at imparting basic knowledge, while the West focused more on fostering the ability to discover, to innovate, and to create.

“Basic knowledge should not be neglected, but it’s not the only thing about education,” said Lin. “We need to learn from the West in making our students more innovative. In my school, I have Chinese and foreign teachers sit and teach side by side so that they can watch and learn from each other.”

Lin said identification is also very important. “Global citizens are not rootless globetrotters, but have their own distinct identity,” he said. “Identity is the basis for children’s physical and psychological health.”

Lin concluded that international education should help children connect their homeland culture with the world and build well-rounded individual personalities.

“Global citizens should build rich identities based on the core of their native cultures,” he said. “We should not be single-dimension persons, but rich identities that can adapt to different environments and communicate with people from all over the world.”


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