In the worldwide race to improve education, China isn't standing by. The country is planning to make changes to its education system for primary school students, along the lines of the Finnish education system, to put less emphasis on testing and homework.
In Finland, students are engaged in creative activities while teachers are given wide latitude with assignments and curricula. CCTV, China's state television network, said in a post on the English version of its website that the Ministry of Education has proposed changes for primary school education that draws on the increasingly popularity of the Finnish model, according to Allen Wastler of CNBC.com.
The proposed guidelines, which are still under discussion, call for primary schools to no longer set any form of written homework for students in grades one to six. Schools will be encouraged to work with parents to organize extracurricular activities and after-school assignments, including museum tours and library study, according to CCTV.
In addition, the new education system would revamp scoring systems and reduce the number of mandatory exams.
"Here's the big picture about China's move," said Gary J. Beach, publisher emeritus of CIO Magazine and author of "The U.S. Technology Skills Gap." "If it works—and that is a big âIF'—China will jump in front in the global race to teach students the ânew' skills like collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. And with their already overwhelming population advantage, if China succeeds (and it will take at least two decades to determine that) it will have dramatic repercussions on the global workforce."
However, other scholars including Yong Zhao, who is a professor of education at the University of Oregon and a widely cited expert on China education issues, do not agree that this represents a major shift toward Finland's model.
"I don't think China is trying emulate Finland," Yong Zhao said. "It's trying to emulate the old U.S. (before all the testing, standardization put in place over the last decade or so). China has been trying to change its education since way before Finland became famous for its PISA performance in 2000."
American educators and politicians have been warning for years that rising economies like China and India are poised to overtake the United States in math and science achievement — but facts may illustrate a different story. A recent study by researchers at Stanford University found that a quality gap exists between elite and mass universities in India, China, Russia, and Brazil, which are funneling more resources than ever to higher education institutions in an effort to create world-class university systems. So, while some foreign institutions may be doing a remarkable job, the education systems as a whole may be less advanced than many think.
Overall, the researchers found that significant challenges remain as these countries march toward creating universities that can rank alongside those in the United States and Europe.
The study said that although there is growing concern in the U.S. that these four countries will develop their own centers of high-tech production and innovation, fears that they will draw research, development and scholarship away from American shores are still premature.
According to Dan Levin of The New York Times, Chinese educators are looking closely at American education — and they like the teaching methods and standards used by American schools. Educators in China are dismayed by the country's obsession with stellar test results and that the Chinese education system encourages students to memorize information with no or limited practical science training.