CONTACT US Wed Nov. 13, 2013

CASS 中国社会科学网(中文) Français


Education reforms to focus on innovation, cooperation

Author  :  TIAN XIABIAO     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-12-12

Students from Mahong Middle School at Xinyu City, Jiangxi Province, learn growth patterns and cultivation methods of rape, pear, peach and other plants on a field trip to a local farm on March 28. (PHPTO: ZHOU LIANG/XINHUA)

Education is the driver of national social progress and also the foundation of individual development. In the future, education reform should adopt a people-oriented approach, address children’s needs in terms of physical and mental development, and keep up with the times.

In this light, we propose that education reform focus on key words such as passion, innovation and cooperation to cultivate tomorrow’s citizens with rational behavior and rich emotion, thus promoting the harmonious development of human society. 

Interest over scores

For a long time, Chinese education has focused on knowledge acquisition, and students have been taught various types of knowledge through textbooks. Given the emphasis on grades in the current system of evaluation, schools, teachers and families take various measures to improve test scores, such as extending class hours or subjecting students to endless exercises and after-school tutoring.

As it turns out, the teaching approach tends to simplify the process of teaching and learning by devoting time and energy to facilitating students’ understanding of textbooks. The central task of this type of education is to get students to excel at examinations rather than encouraging them to grasp the systematic connection among pools of information or applying this knowledge to real life, which often causes the theory-practice dislocation and knowledge fragmentation. 

The social adaptability of students is weak, particularly shown in the poor application of knowledge in reality, insufficient interpersonal communication, and a lack of social responsibility. At root, this type of education philosophy overlooks the balance between students’ physical and mental development and fails to address properly the coordinated growth in all-round development and personal character.

In order to better promote students’ healthy development, education reform should make full use of school resources to restore the essence of learning, or to be more specific, free students from an exam-oriented style of learning based on rote memorization. Instead, students could base their study on the complex social and natural phenomena, rely on theoretical study in class to find answers, think for themselves, and benefit from interaction with teachers and fellow students. In short, in a school’s positive material and humanistic environment, students are expected to form a good learning habit. 

Children are born to be curious, and schools are responsible for making sure their passion and curiosity are well protected and inspired so that they could continuously raise questions about the outside world. In content, most students are interested in natural phenomena and real-life stories because they live in it and feel it with all their senses. To understand the context of one unknown fact, students need to learn related knowledge and organize facts to better explain it.

Therefore, we encourage students to take the question as an anchor and learn in actions through primary learning such as attending classes, reading literature, field investigations and projects, and then deepening their understanding in constant questioning, discussion and interacting with teachers and fellow students, thus making the knowledge truly their own. 

Innovation is key

As a practice to cultivate people, education bears the responsibility of inheriting and innovating culture, which is a common expression of the value of education. On the one hand, education needs to pass on the wisdom accumulated in the past and the present of human civilization, so that members of society acquire a variety of knowledge, skills and moral norms essential to production and daily life. On the other hand, education should be grounded in accumulated cultural knowledge. But more importantly, in light of new environments and contradictions, education should be reformed and adjusted to the existing cultural structure.

These two aspects are indeed intertwined because inheritance is based on the strong vitality of the wisdom of human civilization, but it often has to rely on the new cultural carrier to continue the narratives, rather than reciting historical accounts rigidly. Only when history engages with real social production and life can it exert a positive impact on members of society. 

In this light, innovation is an essential way for members of society to build on accumulated cultural experience, knowledge, technology and mentalities to deal with the new surrounding environment in a more effective way in order to retain the human race’s survival and development.

However, whether it is cultural heritage or innovation, ultimately, the value of education should be rooted in the cultivation of high-quality social subjects. Social subjects in different times face new problems, so they need to adopt different ideas, methods and techniques to resolve these emerging issues. This is a dynamic innovation process, which involves the reorganization, adjustment and application of knowledge, value orientation, technical tools, ethics and morals. 

Unfortunately, in reality, education tends to be conservative. Many Chinese schools still prioritize scores and consider improving students’ performance in examination to be their primary task, so education and teaching often require students to repeat and memorize knowledge in a rigid way, and students spend most of their time doing exercises and passing tests.

Most students are shielded from the complex social reality and trapped in classrooms, where they get little hands-on experience in life. 

Accordingly, in the examination-oriented mindset, people’s values and mentality become rigid and identical, creating a social climate that craves fame, money and technology. Also, though science and technology changes rapidly and human production and life are globalized in today’s world, culture presents the tendency of convergence. In particular, people become extremely vulnerable in the grip of nature and overwhelmed by the common development of modernization, such as resource shortages and environmental degradation.

Therefore, education must make sure students are ready for all kinds of contradictions in the future and the first step is to break free from exam-oriented education and standardized testing. We need our children to be courageous and innovative. 

To say the least, our education should strive to equip students with sound knowledge, mindset and emotion to think independently and become problem-solvers, so as to promote the inheritance and development of human culture.

Cooperation rather than competition

Throughout history, human society has constantly pursued progress with the objective of enhancing the quality of life of its members, which constitutes the basic value orientation of human historical development. However, while we are busy chasing progress and quality, people’s production and life has been tainted with backwardness and imperfection. This is somewhat associated with the long-term deviation of educational practice as well as the physical and mental imbalance of students that results.

Education is the bedrock of individual and community success. Therefore, education should be comprehensive and meticulous, fully utilizing its advantages in time, space, financial resources, teachers, organization and institutions, so that students can reach their maximum potential.

Whether it is a free and tolerant learning environment, a difficult school project, a broad curriculum, or a method of hands-on learning, we need to truly stress personality cultivation and the holistic development of people.

However, it is undeniable that the current school system overemphasizes scores. It seems teachers and parents believe that the best students are those who rank highest in examinations. 

As a result, students are inclined to compare themselves to peers in academic performance, school and even employment. The idea of outdoing others spawns fierce competition that often comes at the expense of the integrity of a student’s life and health.

Under the current system, it often turns out that students get high scores but have a low interest in learning. A small number of students become “winners” of fame, whereas the majority becomes “losers” with mediocre report cards. However, no matter who wins or loses, all are at risk of forming a narrow, irrational, intolerant and arrogant mentality and behavior patterns, which will accompany and hurt them throughout their lives. 

It can be seen in reality that though people are aware of the limitation of exam-oriented learning, they are still keen on getting better scores, enrolling in famous schools, and purchasing property in better school districts.

In sum, education reform should restore the essence of education by cultivating an interest in learning, a free will to think outside of the box, and a sense of cooperation rather than competition, which will eventually help students to discover themselves and the meaning of a happy life. 


Tian Xiabiao is from the School of Education Science at Dali University.

Editor: Yu Hui

>> View All

Interview with Wang Gungwu on significance of studying overseas Chinese

Wang Gungwu is a distinguished Australian historian who studies overseas Chinese. He currently works at the Faculty o...

>> View All