Conversations and the Flat World

One thing that blogging, Skyping, and social-networking has taught me is to listen for the conversations. The conversations that carry a message of the flat world or of the changing of our society. In the last couple of days I’ve had some conversations that have made me stop and think about the world we are in today and the world we are trying to educator our students to join. Over the next couple of posts I want to share my conversations with you.

The first conversation was with a Chinese teacher at my school. My principal (Andy Torris who reads and comments here often) paired a new teacher with a returning teacher to start building relationships among the staff. Lisa and I found each other and the story goes from there.

Lisa is Shanghainese born and raised right here in Shangahi. She went to a private school here and when it came time for college she went to the U.K.

“I wanted to be a teacher.” she told me, “I knew how the Chinese taught and the system because I grew up with it. But I wanted to learn a new way of teaching to expand my knowledge and practices of teaching, so I went to the U.K. for my undergraduate degree in Education. I also have a Master’s degree through the SUNNY program here at our school in Education.”

I asked her about the difference between our American system and the Chinese system she grew up in.

“In Chinese schools they are very strict and there is a lot of competition. Everyone wants to be the best in the class. So if the teacher assigns one page for homework you do two. The pressure comes from the parents mostly, because they want their children to succeed and the only way to get into a good Chinese University is to have really good grades. There are limited spots in the universities and only the best get in.”

Me: “Are there a lot of universities in China?”

“There are becoming more and more, but the old ones are still considered the best. Kind of like Yale and Harvard. That is were everyone wants to go. The other universities are good, they just don’t have the reputation yet.”

Me: “What are schools like in China?”

“It depends. There are some really rich private schools that have more than we have here at SAS, and there are other schools that have nothing.”

Me: “Are there public schools?”

“Yes, some are good and some are not good it depends on the area.”

Me: “Are they free?”

“They are free to go to, but you have to pay for your uniform and books and supplies. There are some families that can’t afford to even pay for that so their children don’t go to school.”

(On a side note or Ayi, a.k.a. maid, is from a province 6 hours away. But came to Shanghai to get a job for the soul purpose of putting her kids through school.)

Me: “What is the technology like in schools?”

“Some schools have lots of technology, like laptops for every kid, digital whiteboards in every room and stuff like that, and then there are others that don’t have books and desks. Again it just depends. In some towns way out in the country they don’t even have schools yet.”

The conversation went on from there. I get asked often about local schools in Shanghai and thought I’d share this little insight from one of our teachers. Of course I’ve done the best to preserve the conversation as I remember it less than 24 hours ago. Again, one of those times I found myself looking for my iRiver only to find it was out of reach. More to come on this conversation later.

[tags]conversations[/tags]

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2 Comments

  1. Jeff,
    Thanks for posting your experiences as an educator in Shanghai. I spent a little bit of time there myself this summer at East China Normal University, as a visiting expert at an ed tech conference. Shanghai is a fascinating place. I learned a lot about education in China from the graduate students I worked with at ECNU. However, one of the things I would have liked to do but didn’t get to was visit some k-12 schools in the city. Now I can do that virtually :) I’ve followed your blog in the past, but will do so more now as I am very interested in your experiences while you are in China. Keep us posted.

  2. Public schools in the upper secondary level (grade 10 and above) are more prestigious than private schools and they are not for everybody. It all depends on how you do on your lower secondary school leaving exam. You apply to a list of the schools you are interested in attending in the order of their lowest acceptable scores before this exam. The acceptable score for a private school is much lower than that of any public school. That is to say, if you cannot get into a public school, you go to a private school. Also upper secondary schools are not part of mendatory education so even public upper secondaries have a tuition fee. Private upper secondaries do tend to have better facilities but in reality, they don’t attract serious students. The only deciding factor of where a student is going to college is her performance on the standardized college entrance exam. All the study, assignments, grades, tutoring, are just preperations for this exam. Like lower secondary schools build their reputations by how many students they send to PUBLIC “key” upper secondary schools, those uppers build their reputations by how many students they send to prestigious first tire four years colleges. A typical private school is usually the feeder of second tire four years colleges and vocational three years colleges.

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