Dispatch from China

NSTA Executive Director Francis Eberle

NSTA Executive Director Francis Eberle

The delegation seems to be feeling a bit more comfortable with the surroundings and food. The hotel is a couple of blocks from “the Bund” (the historic area along the Huangpu river) and the Yuyuan Garden.

So far the conference has hosted speakers from China (Ministry of Education, Higher Education, and Informal Education) and the U.S. (Higher Education, Curriculum Developers, informal education). Most of the talks were at a higher level without much mention of science instructional approaches or strategies. I was surprised to learn about the scale of the Chinese education system. There are 1.3 billion people in China and 200 million K–12 students. Approximately 8.5 million students are children of migrant workers, and 24 million students’ parents leave during the week to work in factories. The class sizes average around 35–50 students.

There are 17 million teachers in China and the professional development for teachers (including science teachers) is required; one third of it is provided by the government and the rest is provided by the local school. Teachers are certified for 5 years and need to receive continued support to become recertified.



There is a national science curriculum (Learning by Doing) and standards. The topics are essentially the same as ours and include guidelines, similar to U.S. science education standards, which decrease doing some things and increasing others. A couple of chemistry examples include less chemistry calculation and demonstration experiments or increasing the teaching of ecological balance, and connecting to life experiences.

Inquiry is a focal point and appears to be very important to the Chinese. However there was agreement with some of the U.S. speakers that the concept of inquiry is not well understood or implemented in Chinese classrooms. The issue of assessing inquiry seemed to leave all speakers challenged to provide a good answer. The Chinese teachers started to ask questions today and were quite comfortable with asking pointed questions.

Three themes really stood out today: Equity, assessment, and implementation. The challenge of the scale of China is mind boggling. China has so many students and teachers that the implementation issues are huge. The delivery systems are massively designed; however it is not clear how they are actually working.

There are 40 different groups of people within China and the wealth of China is very uneven, particularly among the urban and rural communities. Assessment is used mostly as a filter of students rather than being used to improve instruction. Technology is helping provide these and some instructional approaches across the country.

More soon …

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One Comment

  1. Kate
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    I am a member of my middle school’s science curriculum committee. We have been striving for years to be the “best” in our area. After reading about your trip to China, I realize that we need to actually be concentrating on a much more global scale. Our middle school was just chosen as one of the top schools in the country, but I can see that that is not enough. According to your post, the Chinese teachers and administrators are struggling with the same problems as we do in trying to improve their curriculum. We have been making sure that science is taught by inquiry in our district for quite a few years now, but the idea of connecting it to real life is just now making headway for some teachers. At our meetings, we have been talking about the time when there will be a national science curriculum and national standards in our country. Looks like the Chinese already have that in place! We try to incorporate technology into our curriculum as much as our budget will allow. In this economy, our district is struggling with a huge deficit, and we may have to cut much of our technology budget. I am so curious about the technology that the Chinese have in their schools. Could you tell me what you saw as far as computers, Smartboards, and other newer technologies? Do students have laptops? Did the classrooms have computers? Did the schools have other technologies that we do not have here? Do you have any advice for my curriculum team that would help us compete on the global scale?

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