Many college professors may have noticed that a good number of students from Asian countries do not participate or share their thoughts in class as much as American students do. Many think that because these students lack the ability to properly communicate in English, they are less confident in public speaking and therefore cannot express themselves with their limited vocabularies. Although this can be true, it is only part of the reason. Differences in grammar also pose a lot of difficulties for foreign students who want to share their thoughts and opinions with the class. However, there are students who speak fluent English who still cannot express their logic in a good way.
Depending on each Asian country’s specific situation, there are different reasons why this is the case. As a foreign student with a Chinese background, I would like to talk about how the differences in our education systems contributed to this phenomenon.
China created its education system based on the old Soviet Union model. Different from the U.S. liberal education, the Chinese system is based on mass production of knowledgeable elites who could contribute to the construction of the nation, therefore largely neglecting the development an individual’s uniqueness. This system has not changed much since it was adopted.
Chinese culture focuses a lot on bringing the people together as a country, and one important way to achieve this goal is by establishing a common value through education of the mind. The Chinese education system was set up for the purpose of standardization of an individual’s value and thinking process. However, the American way of educating students puts more emphasis on the uniqueness of each person. When individuals are able to develop themselves according to their own needs, they are able to contribute to society in their own ways. The Chinese top-down approach and the American bottom-up approach is the main reason why there is such a huge difference between the output of these two systems.
From my experiences of being exposed to both systems, I have noticed the different teaching methods used to achieve these two different goals.
Critical thinking has never been a main focus for the Chinese system. It actually constantly avoids this method in order to achieve standardized value. The same textbooks and lesson plans are used in almost every city across the nation. A large part of Chinese class was memorizing and reciting articles, being able to repeat what others said, agreeing with their ideas, and writing them down on exams. These habits were essential for students to achieve academic success. Gradually, students have developed a habit of accepting everything they are being taught; it’s rare that anyone would read a text book article and oppose the ideas being taught by the teachers.
Fast forward to my high school years in the United States. It was my first time learning the ideas of giving your own thoughts about an article, disagreeing with the author, and thinking critically. I had to write compare and contrast essays on different topics I learned throughout the school year. I had to participate in debates and go through rebuttal against another student or even the entire class. It took some time for me to get comfortable with the thought of going against my classmates’ opinions, but after a long period of time I was able to express why I disagreed with them.
Going back home after spending years of studying abroad in America, I have realized from my conversations with a lot of my old friends that these differences in the two education systems has largely changed our way of perceiving problems. However, I won’t say which system is better. We need to develop education systems based on the specific needs and situations of each country instead of simply adopting a completely newer and “better” system that might not work. The best way to decide whether an education system is suitable for a particular country is to understand that it is subject to change according to different development stages of the country. The most effective system will always upgrade itself to fit the needs of the students.