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The theme of social justice appears to be central in education research. A polysemic and sometimes empty notion, social justice can be defined, constructed, and used in different ways, which makes it a problematic notion to work with intra- and interculturally. Global education research has often relied on constructions of the notion as they have been “done” in the West, leaving very little space to constructions from peripheries. This problematic and somewhat biased approach often leads to research that ignores local contexts and local ways of “discoursing” about social justice. Although some countries are said to be better at social justice in education (e.g., top performers in the OECD PISA studies), there is a need to examine critically and reflexively how it is “done” in different contexts (“winners” and “losers” of international rankings) on macro- and micro-levels. Two different educational utopias, China and Finland, are used to illustrate the different constructions of social justice, and more specifically marginalization and belonging in relation to migrant students—an omnipresent figure in world education—in the two countries. A call for learning with each other about social justice, and questioning too easily accepted definitions and/or formulas, is made.

Article

Adolescent psychology and mental health needs in China are part of an interdisciplinary area of research. In this area of research, macro and micro processes are closely linked; biological, cultural, and socio-structural influences tightly intertwined; and patterns identified in other societies fall apart due to the impact of powerful societal forces on individual psychology. As a result, there has been a fundamental and long-lasting split between the idea that “Chinese adolescent psychology” should be a distinctive science within China, addressing issues specific to the circumstances of Chinese children and families, and the argument that it should contribute to a universal theory of human development by documenting its applications to Chinese societies. The problem of the first idea lies in its assumption of cultural relativism or the incommensurability of the human experience of growing up in particular sociocultural contexts. In contrast, the problem of the second argument lies in its failure to ask what is “universal,” when a universal theory is applicable to China, and when it may not be. Arguably, adolescents in all cultures carry vulnerabilities and strengths as they go through the process of major biological and psychological transitions. Certain psychosocial needs, such as the needs for self-exploration, quality peer relationship, and continuous guidance and support from adults, are shared by adolescents across the world, albeit through different forms. When their basic needs are neglected by ideology-driven policies and practices that are carried to an extreme extent, youth mental health is seriously threatened. It is important for researchers not only to go beyond the dichotomous view of the field by taking an ecological approach and multidisciplinary perspectives to investigate the salient issues in adolescent psychology and mental health needs in their specific sociocultural context, but also to consider their broader implications for understanding universally relevant questions about success and sacrifice in human and social development.

Article

Curriculum Studies has an abiding concern for creating curriculum that leads toward the good society. Typically, this concern has taken either a technical approach to citizenship education or political projects, redressing society’s ills and wrongs. The citizenship approach attempts to establish correct citizenship behavior. The political approach attempts to reorganize the structure of society. Neither approach attends to the inner ethical life of the person. A third approach also exists in the Curriculum Studies literature: how ethics and aesthetics are grounds for educating for a good society through cultivating the inner ethical life. Asserting the intersection of ethics and aesthetics has an old history throughout the world. In the European tradition, it begins with the Greeks, who theorized that one of the major areas of inquiry, axiology, actually was two areas of concern, asking two conjoined questions, “What is ‘the good’?” and “What is ‘the beautiful’?” They recognized that these two questions had intersecting concerns but went no further than a cursory mention. This insight has continued, in various forms, to this day. The Chinese tradition, which began before Confucius, theorizes a similar connection. Contemporary Curriculum Studies literature takes two approaches to the ethics–aesthetics intersection. The first approach favors studying how people encountering already made art may be aided in developing an ethical life through those encounters. This literature uses three ethics systems: pragmatism, affective education (akin to naturalism), and utilitarianism. In this approach, the relationship of aesthetics to ethics is basically instrumental: encountering aesthetic objects is an instrument that can lead to an ethical life. The second approach makes art-making central to cultivating or enlivening ethical consciousness. To varying degrees, this approach treats the experience of making art (cultivating an aesthetic consciousness) as a “door” to ethical consciousness such that one cannot necessarily pass through the door without it. Art-making only means making art, which all people are capable of doing (rather than a focus on training professional artists). Both approaches offer a significant opportunity to rethink the contribution aesthetics and the arts can make to fostering the good society. They also offer an opportunity to rethink what it means to do Curriculum Studies by considering the place of body and aesthetics in all of Curriculum Studies.

Article

Despite the fact that Mandarin is not accorded official language status in Malaysia, and that ethnic Chinese communities accounted for less than 30% of the country’s overall population, Malaysia is the only country outside China and Taiwan with a comprehensive and complete Chinese education system. It is also the only country in Southeast Asia that has perpetuated the Chinese education system established during the colonial era. The prolonged endurance of the Chinese education system in Malaysia is the result of many factors: heavy brokerage and lobbying efforts by ethnic Chinese political leaders; incorporation of vernacular schools into the Malay-dominated national education system in the backdrop of the Malayan nation formation stage; social mobilization of the Chinese education movement in Malaysia; and the increasing significance of Mandarin proficiency in the world. In particular, the assimilation policies for nation building by the Malay-dominated regime have threatened the cultural distinctiveness of the Chinese-speaking communities. Resistance from the Chinese speaking minorities is manifested through their support of the Chinese schools. Moreover, the elimination of English schools during the 1970s has unintentionally favored the Chinese primary schools. Despite their standing at that time as the “second-best” option after the English school, Chinese schools that offered the benefit of trilingual education, stricter discipline, and more competitive academic performance enjoyed an accelerated boost in student enrollments. More importantly, many parents who do not speak Chinese began to appreciate the quality of Chinese schools, and the enrollment of non-ethnic Chinese students has continued to rise ever since. Above all, China’s rapid economic ascendancy and growing political influence since the 1990s has enhanced the importance of Mandarin as a global language. This has added value to the importance of Chinese schools as language and cultural learning institutions for Malaysian. Such opportunity has enabled the Chinese school model to become one of the most successful and inclusive educational institutions for multicultural Malaysians.

Article

Since the mid-1990s, research and debates around classroom teaching reform have flourished, generating some popular classroom teaching theories, like life practice pedagogy, contextualized teaching, language immersion teaching, subjective teaching, and student-centered teaching, in response to the rapid development of economy, education, information technology, and international communication. At the same time, teaching experiments have been conducted in elementary and secondary schools under these theories for two decades or longer. Officially, a nationwide curriculum reform was launched in China at the beginning of the 21st century, to meet the educational goal of students’ full development. As a result, the long-existing traditional classroom teaching, as the core of the reform, has witnessed some significant changes. Teachers, as the key to classroom teaching, have gone through transitions from knowledge imparters to facilitators. Meanwhile, students have become more active learners, interacting with teachers and other fellow students. Thus, the teaching process became more learning centered, interactive, and dynamic. Courses on teaching content, previously the only required courses in the National Instructional Guideline (jiao xue da gang), have been enriched by optional courses and activity courses with a concentration on life experience and interactions with National Curriculum Standards. Furthermore, with new technologies being adopted in the 2010s, classroom teaching is now organized in the form of a flipped classroom or micro-lecture, to enhance quality education (su zhi jiao yu). However, in classroom teaching practice, students’ subjectivity (zhu ti xing) as unique individuals with autonomy and creativity has not yet been truly realized, and their non-intellectual development, such as will power, engagement, critical thinking, and creativity, are not emphasized as expected. In addition, inequality exists in different areas and different types of schools. Great efforts from all sectors in China are still required to create a healthy and ecological education system.

Article

The field of curriculum studies has long been tormented by a disputatious literature over theory and practice and the proper way to pursue curriculum inquiry. Roughly in the middle of the last century standard practical pursuits came into question with a dizzying array of postmodern critiques. Countering both the practical pursuits under criticism and the postmodern reconceptualist critical literature, Joseph J. Schwab advanced a theory of The Practical. Schwab’s writing remains relevant, and theoretical debates on curriculum inquiry regularly reference Schwab. These debates are driven by fundamentally different philosophical views on theory and practice and their place in curriculum studies. Although the reconceptualist literature has become theoretical orthodoxy in the field of curriculum studies, the debate is kept alive by writers who draw on Schwab’s theory of The Practical. However, little progress in mutual understanding has resulted because debate is focused on theoretical parameters, assertions, and positions at the expense of the practice of inquiry. We believe that turning attention to what people do in curriculum inquiry rather than pursuing theoretic prescriptions of how people should think in curriculum studies would help move the field forward. Our “Practical” Schwab-based work in personal practical knowledge and in narrative inquiry over the years, culminating in our current large-scale, seven-year-long longitudinal comparative education study, Reciprocal Learning Partnership Research between Canada and China, is illustrative. Using a commonplaces of inquiry framework developed by Schwab, we detail practical research qualities of The Practical and of the Reciprocal Learning Partnership Project. We discuss the situational starting and end points of curriculum inquiry in the Reciprocal Learning Partnership with special reference to the moral quality of practical situations studied. We further describe the nature of qualified knowledge outcomes in inquiry, qualities of the researcher agent, method and its relationship to a flexible, shifting database, and the understanding that inquiry and situations studied are the outcomes of narrative histories. This Schwab-based comparative education work begins with a moral position on a practical international situation and builds cross-cultural reciprocal learning strategies and outcomes using diverse theoretical positions and methodologies. In so doing Schwab’s “The Practical” is demonstrated by a new model of comparative curriculum studies. There is much to criticize in this work but there is also, we believe, much in which to take pride. Canadian and Chinese educators and their practices are enhanced through reciprocal learning. Improving practice has its own theoretical, and personal, rewards apart from the security achieved by theoretical consistency pursued by The Theoretic. Our hope is that something new in the contentious arena of curriculum studies may emerge if deliberation revolved around competing curriculum inquiry practices rather than around competing theoretical ideas on the nature of curriculum inquiry. Should this hope be unrealized, we nevertheless believe that Reciprocal Learning as an exemplar of The Practical provides useful direction for comparative curriculum studies.

Article

Education inequality has been a challenging issue worldwide, and disparity across schools constitutes a significant proportion of total inequality. Effective policies to turn around low-performing schools (LPS) are therefore of great importance to both governments and students. The Elite School Education Group (ESEG) policy is an emerging one, and it has quickly become very influential in China, a country with one of the largest and most diversified education systems in the world. Under this policy, elite public schools (EPS), which have exceptionally enriched educational resources (i.e., high-quality teachers, strong principal leadership, excellent school cultures, etc.), are encouraged by the government to build school groups with LPS. Within the school group under the elite school brand, branch schools (i.e., the previous LPS) can share all kinds of resources from the EPS (including teachers and principals), and they may even utilize the prestige of the brand itself as a means to attract high-performing students. The ESEG policy enables the delivery of multiple turnaround interventions to LPS in an autonomous way, through building partnerships between EPS and LPS. While some LPS are successfully turned around, some are not. It depends on the effectiveness of the reforms undertaken in the branch schools. Of particular importance is the access to strong principal leadership, excellent teachers, and the school cultures from EPS. Incentives for EPS to participate in this reform include obtaining flexibility in personnel management, expanding school scale and influence, and mobilizing other resources. Despite the potential positive influence on the branch schools, the ESEG policy may have a more complex influence on the entire education ecology than initially expected. Indeed, there are now some concerns that the ESEG is creating new LPS, because more and more high-performing students are drawn out of normal schools and attracted to the ESEG-partnered schools during admission. Thus, the effectiveness of the ESEG policy should not be solely based on attracting high-performing students, but on improving overall education quality.

Article

A theoretical model of positioned, positioning, and repositioning is used to conceptualize the evolving process of the internationalization of Chinese higher education and answer the following three questions: (a) How have the quantitative trends of Chinese students studying abroad and international students studying in China changed over the past 30 years? (b) What are the differences between Chinese students studying abroad and international students studying in China in recent years, in terms of the host and sending countries, the level of study, and the fields of study, and what do the differences mean when compared to those in other countries? (c) What are the challenges, opportunities, and strategies in the years to come? To answer the first question, a compilation of descriptive quantitative data is used from numerous large national and international data sources, which reports a long-term upward trend (with some fluctuations) of inbound international students in China and outbound Chinese international students around the world over the past 30 years. To answer the second question, using general international mobile student profiles for context, data were compared of inbound international students in China and the United States in terms of both level of study and field of study. These revealed imbalanced patterns: Chinese outbound students are more likely to be in certain fields (e.g., STEM, business) and at graduate levels, but international students in China are more likely to be undergraduate students and non-degreed students in the humanities and language studies. Based on the data for the first two questions, the issues are synthesized in order to present the opportunities and challenges regarding the continuation of China’s internationalization of its higher education, especially with respect to inbound international students. In terms of issues and opportunities, economic and other impacts (such as political, financial, and pandemic related) are highlighted and call China’s attention to maintaining and expanding the strengths of its higher education system while considering competition from neighboring countries. Six major challenges are identified in this area, and suggestions are provided.

Article

Liang Du, Huimeng Li, and Weijian Wang

Rural education has received considerable attention from researchers and policy makers in their attempts to understand the deep-rooted rural/urban dichotomy in China. Most debates surround how to improve the “quality” of rural education and to “rebalance” the level of educational development between rural and urban regions. For this purpose raising the “quality” of teachers across rural schools is highlighted as the key element in many policies and studies, and the focus has shifted from addressing a teacher shortage to the recruitment and retention of quality teachers, especially in those remote regions. Issues in China’s rural education are not only reflections of rural–urban differences but also reproduce these social differentiations. Those who pay the price of the entrenched rural/urban dichotomy in China are the increasing number of “left-behind” children in the rural villages as well as the “floating” students in the urban schools whose numbers have also increased in the past decades. Most members of both groups tend to undergo a social reproduction process in the school systems and eventually become workers in the manufacturing and service industries in urban centers. Meanwhile, rural education in China is also abundant in culturally meaningful processes. While many scholars and policy makers view the rural school as a critical site for passing on the cultural inheritance of “rural China,” rural students themselves nevertheless creatively make meaning of their daily experiences and produce rich cultural forms. Some of them develop certain forms of “counterschool” culture as they experience educational failure, while others take up cultural traits valued by their rural families and turn them into a form of cultural capital, which consequently plays a pivotal role in the educational and social mobility of rural students.