Talking with Jersey

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I’ve been meaning to do an article about my conversation with Will, but have found myself in more meetings than at a computer…never a good thing when you’re a techie.

I, like Will, was amazed at the clarity of the call a half a world away. It was the first time I had used Skype to the States and I was very impressed.

Let me talk about a couple of things that Will and I discussed and he mentions in his article at weblogg-ed.

As of today Will, you are still accessible in China. Blogs within China are growing at an enormous rate and so is the amount of people the country is employing to watch them. The government constantly is watching blogs and shutting down ones that it feels are “inappropriate”. Trying to control information coming from 1.4 billion people is no small task.

I’m not going to talk a whole lot about China policies and such as I’m afraid I won’t able to get to my blog anymore. Those questions and comments we’ll have to leave to podcasts or to the NECC conference. Feel free to look me up there.

Josh Thomas left some question for me on Will’s article so I will do my best to answer those. I have only been in Shanghai since August, so my answers are just what I have experienced in the short time I’ve been here. It will be interesting to look back on this posting a year from now and see how I feel then.

Josh Wrote:

Great post, thanks Will. I do have one question (for Jeff I suppose) … One of my colleagues, Dr. Valerie Brown, spent three weeks in China last fall, as part of a Education Policy/Business Leader group from our state (NC). The goal of the trip was to learn more about education and education policy in China (Valerie and her group will be heading to India in January — I’m hoping I can have her blog that trip).
Anyway, her take-away from the trip to China was the vast majority of Chinese kids “being left behind” (NCLB politics aside, I think you understand what I mean). Valerie’s impression was that only the very top % (3? 5? 10?) of students go to (or are selected for) school of any consequence.

As far as students being selected, I’m not sure about that. Our school works with the poorer schools in Shanghai, so I have not seen any of the top private schools here. As Friedman states in his book, if China only educates 10% of its population it will have a work force the size of the US. So if the number of Chinese students going to good schools is about 10%, that would be in line with Friedman’s thinking.

This doesn’t mean the Chinese aren’t doing many things very well and very right, and I certainly don’t want this notion to cloud or excuse or to rationalize what we’re doing here (we’re certainly doing many things very poorly and very wrong).

Truthfully I have not spent any time in a Chinese school, so I don’t really know what they are doing right, or wrong for that matter. I do know that math and science are huge areas of focus in the Asian culture. Not just in China, but all of Asia. As with the Pakistani and Indian students I taught in Saudi Arabia and with the Korean, Chinese-American, and other Asian cultures that go to our school here, the pressure in the Math and Science area from home are sometimes extreme.

I guess my question(s) are these: Is this an accurate portrayal of Chinese education? How (if it does at all) does this inform what we’re trying to accomplish in the US? What specifically can we learn from China that can be applied here, given our student populations, etc?

These are all good questions that I do not have answers to now, but hopefully over the course of my stay here in Shanghai, I will be able to answer some of these questions for you.

One clarification I would like to make is that no Chinese nationals go to our school. Only students who hold a valid passport from a country other than China are allowed to go to our school. So we do have Chinese students in our school, but they are Chinese-American, or Chinese-Canadian, or hold a passport from some other country.
One thing that is just overwhelming to me right now in China is the pace of change. There is such a huge labor force here that I swear they erect building over night. If something needs to get done, they will employ thousands of workers working 24/7 on a project to complete it in time. All of these new workers are adding to the economy and as Frieman puts it “the pie gets larger” creating more jobs for everyone. Here is the growth from my school as stated on our website:

In the past six years the school has grown from a student population of about 800 to its current enrollment of over 2300 students from about 40 countries. The first graduation of SAS high school students in 50 years took place in 1995 with a class of six students. The 2005 graduating class included 123 students. The growth has mostly come as a result of the rapid increase in Shanghai’s expatriate business community.

Because of the exploding economy here in China, expatriates (anyone who makes a home outside their ‘home’ country) are brought in from countries all around the world to help fill the gap of this larger pie. A lot of these expatriates are ‘untouchables’ as Friedman puts it. Some are specialized in a particular field and others are specialized in communicating in Chinese. DSCN0885It is the latter of these two that I find most interesting. There is a guy I play softball with who is a specialist. He has a business degree and is fluent in Chinese. He is from Chicago and is currently working for his fourth company in 6 years. When a job is finished that he is working on, the company lets him go, but he doesn’t really worry because he has a special skill that is needed in this day and age. He told me that he gets about 5 job offers a month from other companies needing someone with a business background and who can speak both English and Chinese. He just took a new job about 2 months ago in a small town (about 3 million people…that’s considered a small town in China) about 2 hours east of Hong Kong. I asked him why he took that job and he told me that they offered him a really good package and it will give him the opportunity to see a different part of China, although he loves Shanghai. If he doesn’t like it there, he completes his 1 year contract and can get a job somewhere else. He’s 28 years old and is a specialist who is highly adaptable, willing to learn a new job and new skills as they are needed. He’s loving the flat world and taking full advantage of it.

Like I told Will on Skype, it’s a great time to be in China right now. I’m only half way through Friedman’s book, but as I read I can look around this country and see the world getting just a little bit more flat.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.

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