Reflections on Education & Learning in Shanghai

Australian students with a Chinese background have long been respected in NSW schools for their diligence and conscientious attitudes towards learning and school. After my first experience of China, 12 days in the exciting metropolis of Shanghai, I can understand more completely why these students are excelling in our schools.

To say that the Chinese value education highly is an understatement.

What I experienced in the universities and schools visited on this TEV exchange demonstrated just how profoundly the Chinese support education and invest in the future of learning. The leading educationalists that addressed our group were passionate and impressive, up-to-date and interested in transformation. They spoke often about innovation, creativity and the need for Chinese students to move beyond the traditional notions of what education involves.

Dr Shungyuan Shi accompanied our group and was a constant source of information and insight into the Chinese system. I enjoyed his conversation greatly and look forward to our ongoing collaboration with great enthusiasm. Shungyuan does a great job for NSW DET in forging closer ties with China and was instrumental in our group meeting the Vice-Mayor of Shanghai, Endi Shang, who took time to welcome us.

I would like to mention one of the institutions we visited in greater detail.

The recently renamed Shanghai Open University has 110 000 students and as an institution, according to the totally impressive Professor Wang Min, has three functions:

  • Online Higher Education for students seeking both a degree and non-degree pathway
  • Accessible education via television for citizens
  • To support primary and secondary schools with educational technology

 

Professor Wang Min was particularly passionate about iPad trials in education and wanted to know what Australian schools are doing in this regard. The Digital Resource Centre we were shown at the university had a focus on mobile, situational and collaborative learning. It was very impressive.

Interesting enough, the wikipedia entry for the university really needs updating. The institution I visited and the educators I met, like Professor Wang Min, Dr Jun Xiao and Associate Professor Ran Zhang have taken the university way into the 21st century.

It was evident everywhere we went in Shanghai that education is given significant investment. The schools and universities were well-resourced and impressive. We were treated with much respect by fellow-educators.

It was a thoroughly rewarding personal and professional experience to be the guest of the Shanghainese people, especially the educationalists of the city.

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The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

7 Comments

  1. David Searle:

    I concur with your comments Darcy, both your general obsservations about the worth of the visit, your assessment of the valuable and decidated work being performed by Dr Shungyuan Shi and your specific response to Shanghai Open University. The word that echoes through your account, “impressive” is most appropriate. I think that we all truly felt this way about what we saw and heard there. The resources obviously pumped into developing this educational hub and the technologies utilised were indeed impressive but to me what was most exciting and rewarding about that visit was the pedagogical mindset and vision that clearly guided their work. They work from the premise that traditional educational delivery, where a fixed content is delivered in a fixed environment at a fixed time to a fixed audience, is obsolete. I think this is so true. Unless we all as educators adopt this mindframe, where flexibility, accessibility and learner choice are paramount, the introduction of new technological tools in learning runs the risk of simply changing the surface and not the substance of learning.
    The challenge we face is spreading this idea. Exciting times indeed!

    • Darcy Moore:

      Well said, David! Flexibility, accessibility and mindframe are key ideas for our New Times and and evolving paradigms. We need new thinking more than new tools, which are plentiful. Does our new Australian curriculum lay out the kind of innovative approach that we need? We have a great deal to learn from the Chinese about education and I suspect our relationships will continue to blossom. Our community really needs – at all levels – to have new attitudes towards learning generally IMHO. This is the real lesson I have taken from our Shanghai trip.

      I look forward to visiting Beijing with my family in 12 months time.

  2. Did you get a sense in Shanghai of the access available to these kinds of resources, and any gap between rich and poor students? It seems like a very innovative scene, and obviously not all schools will have top-end equipment, but is the spirit of innovation widespread?

  3. David Chapman:

    Interesting reflections Darcy. I find it curious the regional differences within Asia in terms of attitude to education. On the whole though it appears that education is more highly valued, in a general sense, than in Australia. My brief experiences in other Asian countries (Japan, Vietnam, and a couple others) has given me that perspective.

    Do you feel there were any negatives (pressure on young people and/or parents) with these (generalised) attitudes?

  4. Troy:

    Loved reading the reflection. The interesting question about rich and poor can be coupled with one between the rural and the urban, which is one we most certainly have here. I am so glad to hear from leaders about ‘innovation, creativity and the need for Chinese students to move beyond the traditional notions of what education involves.’ Meanwhile, our Federal leadership turns ‘it’ into ‘Skills’, a 1984 sounding term.
    The value of education is a debate we need to have. Yes, we value ‘education’ (I’m not sure if we even know what it means in the 21st century Australia!), but how much do we value the strans of education. Travelling and knowing someone in the German higher education system, it is still a mostly traditional exposition of knowledge for those students who are passionate/motivated by moving beyond class structures more akin to the 19th century.

  5. Darcy Moore:

    Troy,

    I asked about literacy rates in Shanghai and it seems they are 100%. Interestingly enough, behind our hotel, in the old town, the people hawking wares and selling from street stalls are mostly rural folk who found their way to the city. They are more likely to only have a primary school education, especially the older people.

    David,

    My general perception is similar to yours but no specific information revealed itself about ‘negative pressures’. The classrooms I saw were quite traditional and focused. Students work very hard it seems.

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