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Dispatch from China

By Francis Eberle

Posted on 2010-11-18

NSTA Executive Director Francis Eberle

NSTA Executive Director Francis Eberle

The delegation seems to be feeling a bit more comfortable with the surroundings and food. The hotel is a couple of blocks from “the Bund” (the historic area along the Huangpu river) and the Yuyuan Garden.
So far the conference has hosted speakers from China (Ministry of Education, Higher Education, and Informal Education) and the U.S. (Higher Education, Curriculum Developers, informal education). Most of the talks were at a higher level without much mention of science instructional approaches or strategies. I was surprised to learn about the scale of the Chinese education system. There are 1.3 billion people in China and 200 million K–12 students. Approximately 8.5 million students are children of migrant workers, and 24 million students’ parents leave during the week to work in factories. The class sizes average around 35–50 students.
There are 17 million teachers in China and the professional development for teachers (including science teachers) is required; one third of it is provided by the government and the rest is provided by the local school. Teachers are certified for 5 years and need to receive continued support to become recertified.

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There is a national science curriculum (Learning by Doing) and standards. The topics are essentially the same as ours and include guidelines, similar to U.S. science education standards, which decrease doing some things and increasing others. A couple of chemistry examples include less chemistry calculation and demonstration experiments or increasing the teaching of ecological balance, and connecting to life experiences.
Inquiry is a focal point and appears to be very important to the Chinese. However there was agreement with some of the U.S. speakers that the concept of inquiry is not well understood or implemented in Chinese classrooms. The issue of assessing inquiry seemed to leave all speakers challenged to provide a good answer. The Chinese teachers started to ask questions today and were quite comfortable with asking pointed questions.
Three themes really stood out today: Equity, assessment, and implementation. The challenge of the scale of China is mind boggling. China has so many students and teachers that the implementation issues are huge. The delivery systems are massively designed; however it is not clear how they are actually working.
There are 40 different groups of people within China and the wealth of China is very uneven, particularly among the urban and rural communities. Assessment is used mostly as a filter of students rather than being used to improve instruction. Technology is helping provide these and some instructional approaches across the country.
More soon …

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