Education Reformation in China

Education is an important part of our growth as individuals and as Christians. I was raised in private Christian schools most of my life but those schools did not always present the gospel in the clearest way. Nonetheless I am grateful for what I learned both intentionally and unintentionally.

In America how we educate our children is a hot topic among Christians with those who advocate homeschooling, private Christian schools and public schools. Each camp has hard core types while most of us admit that there isn’t one absolute choice. In China the situation is vastly different. There are some families who homeschool and some who send their children to private school not necessarily for reasons of faith in both cases. Overall thoughtful parents are unhappy with Chinese education.

Traditional Chinese teaching methods fundamentally are Confucian in nature meaning knowledge comes as the teacher pours his/her wisdom into the students who are seen as empty vessels. Most westerners are taught with a more Socratic method. Socrates believed that wisdom resided within each individual and the teachers job was to dig it out by allowing the student to discover it for themselves therefore the teacher often asks a lot of questions.

In my 15 years of doing campus ministry with Chinese graduate students in the US I was always impressed with how amazing Chinese were at memorizing things. On average a Chinese graduate student would memorize 10,000 English words before he/she took the GRE. I know of no westerner that was able to do that.

On the other hand Chinese culture as a whole has not stressed creativity. This is a weakness of the Chinese education style in general. There is both good and bad.

While it is important to see the strengths and weaknesses of western and eastern pedagogical styles, what is currently happening in China regarding education goes beyond these differences. At the core Christians and non-Christians alike are dissatisfied with a system of competition that goes too far.

Two years ago a story was circulating among my Chinese friends of a 10 year old boy who committed suicide. In his suicide note he confessed that he could not meet up to the teachers expectations.

It would be easy to pass this off as an isolated incident and certainly this one boy’s reaction was extreme but what drove him to this extreme action is not an isolated problem. Our 8 year old daughter is in a local Chinese public school and we have been able to observe first hand the ridiculous amount of pressure put on children as young as 6 years old. Homework that takes 3+ hours to complete, long hours during and after school, staying up until 10pm or later to complete projects. All this has driven many to say “enough!” Combine this with the Christian’s dissatisfaction with an atheistic worldview and you can understand what is driving this educational reformation.

The issue still remains of how can Chinese Christians engage the culture and not isolate themselves. Is taking their children out of a atheistic school system a form of cocooning or isolating our children. As one local pastor put it in a recent sermon, “we can’t afford to let our children be educated in our public schools when their faith is still immature; it’s like throwing them to the lions.” The church in China continue to pursue engaging the culture but using the children may not be the best means to that end.


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