by Eva Molaro
Many expats in China, myself included, came as teachers。 But before that, I had the good fortune of attending a university in China, so I had a pretty good idea of the countrys cultural and educational environment。 As a professional, I found opportunities to test my first impressions and deepen my understanding of the Chinese educational system。
Today， China provides a wide range of choices in education： private， public， nationalcurriculum-based， international， vocational， and part-time， but most students follow the national curriculum through public schools. At the high-school level， school choice is largely determined by grades， which is a big reason the Chinese educational system places so much importance on them. Such pressure can also be found in some Western families， but the importance placed on the zhongkao （secondary school entrance examination） and the gaokao（national college entrance examination） in China is greater than anything by Western standards.
While some universities in some Western countries （especially the United States） choose applicants based on high-school performance, the gaokao results seem to represent a “make or break”moment for Chinese students。 Competition for a spot at a good university such as Tsinghua University or Peking University is unbelievably fierce。 University enrollment is based completely on grades and gaokao scores。
China often produces well-informed students who are disciplined， hardworking and well-prepared. In fact， Chinese students rate so high in Western universities that many have had to place limits on the number of Chinese students admitted because Chinese students were outperforming other applicants. They could improve their system in other ways to enable more of these extraordinary students armed with creative thinking， adaptability， and confidence to compete in the global arena.
When both Chinese and Western workers are trained side-by-side by a company， I have Chinese staff ask for more step-bystep instructions often for fear of doing it wrong. This kind of attitude may stem directly from their experience in school， where learning is strictly standardized. By contrast， Western education attaches more importance to individuality in terms of philosophy， learning style， and personality. Although the system might not entirely fit the situation in China， our shared goal is to encourage students to become more innovative and adaptive to fast-changing times.
After working in education for 13 years, I certainly think schools play a very important role in cultivating citizens and professionals of tomorrow, and the importance of fostering creativity, critical thinking and free choice is part of a drive to produce mature, happy, and contributing members of society。 Unfortunately, even the school system itself sometimes is not a good fit for everyone： Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and other prominent figures of industry did not finish college but still revolutionized the world with innovative ideas。 Schools should focus more on fostering students creativity with an eye on producing innovators。