Future of Education is Brighter in China, the U.S. Should Take Notice


This year's Chinese New Year falls on February 10. A couple days ago, PolicyMic political editor Michael McCutcheon asked me to consider why Chinese do or don't do it better than us. This was actually a good exercise, as we are so used to reading about China bashing that we even feel numb when Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt harped on the old tune in his new book labeling China as "the most dangerous superpower on Earth."

This article is going to pinpoint one area which the Chinese are doing far better than us, that is, in K-12 education. By looking at how China has done better than us in education, it throws some light into why we have been behind in this area.

China's success story was often attributed to the immense supply of cheap labor, which is only part of the story. The other part of China's success is her achievement in education, which, I believe, has been and will continue to be the driving force for China's success.

Based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) given by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), China ranks first on all three parts of the exams: reading, math, and science. Some suggest that "China has an education system that is overtaking many Western countries."

For that year, the U.S. came off 23rd place in science, 17th in reading, and 25th in Math, causing the Associated Press to report, "United States students are continuing to trail behind their peers in a pack of higher performing nations...." Andrew Romano drew attention to the alarm in his article, "How Dumb Are We?" stating, "NEWSWEEK gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship Test - 38% failed. The country's future is imperiled by our ignorance." Nothing confirms this trailing trend more soundly than the college graduation number. Sean Coughlan wrote in BBC News last year, "Downward mobility haunts U.S. education...The U.S. has slipped to 14th in university graduation rates."

China's academic accomplishments result not from heavy government spending or any superior educational system. It is widely accepted in China that parents are a child's first teachers and the family is always the place where children's education is nourished and fully supported. Nicholas Kristof says in his article, "China's Winning Schools?," attesting, "Education thrives in China and the rest of Asia because it is a top priority — and we’ve plenty to learn from that." Education has always been a top priority in a Chinese family.

The U.S. government spends 4.8% of its GDP on education, more than double that of the Chinese government. Of 12 countries, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and Brazil, the U.S. spent most, with $809.6 billion total, $7,743 per school age child. Even with those numbers, math test scores are only above those of Mexico and Brazil.

While Chinese parents take on as their responsibility the education of the next generation, in the U.S., people see government as the solution for their education problem as it is evidenced in seeking more government spending and in the fact that teachers, schools, or the system are often blamed for students' school failure, as if parents are totally inculpable in their children's low academic performance.

There is a true story about a mother in rural China and how she sent her son to a top university. Every day she would get her work done before her son came back from school. After her son got home, this mother would sit by her son with a book in her hand. “I read my book, and you do your school work,” she would remind her son. Year after year, the mother never failed to be there with her offspring while the boy studied.

After the boy was admitted into a hard-to-reach top university in China, people interviewed him about his success. He said: “My mother was reading all the time. She set a good example for me for these years.”

The boy had no idea that his mother was illiterate. The mother told the news media that she wanted her son to study well. Because she couldn’t help her child with his study, she would do all she could by setting a good example for him. She typifies the average responsible Chinese parents. 

Chinese parents' heavy involvements in their children's education is the key to China's education achievement. Conversely, it is safe to say that American parents' inadequate involvements contribute to the U.S. trailing behind in education.