What We Can Learn From China: The Family Matters

It is often noted that China’s educational success has heavily contributed to the country’s emergence as a world power.  China’s academic achievement is most notably found in their international test scores.  In its international standardized testing debut, Shanghai dominated the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) sweeping the three content areas of reading, mathematics and science.  But how did the United States do?  Mediocre at best.  Out of the 65 countries which participated in the PISA, the United States ranked closer to the middle than they did to the top.

So what makes China’s education so great?  Is it because they implement innovative lessons and alternative assessments?  Do they focus more on building the individual than acquiring knowledge for the test?  Nope.  Instead, China is a high-stakes testing juggernaut with more pressure on exams than the United States if you can believe it.

The capstone of China’s testing is their National Higher Education Entrance Examination, or the College Entrance Exam (CEE).  The CEE is the ultimate indicator on the student’s future both academically and professionally.   School curriculum is at the mercy of this test and most of the Chinese dictate their early lives preparing for it leading to many dramatic and extreme consequences.

Since China promotes high-stakes standardized testing just like the United States, the most pressing question is why is there such disparity in test scores?  The answer is simple and embarrassing; the culture of China emphasizes academic success with multiple social pressures with the most notable one for this discussion being family pride.  The families of Chinese students rigorously work to ensure their children are being properly educated around the clock pressuring them not to bring shame upon their family.

This may sound like a simplified answer, but it is geared to illustrate how students in the United States need to understand consequences while also demonstrating that parental involvement is an absolute necessity.   Within the United States, and especially in rural areas, the percent of parents involved and invested with their children’s education has dropped.  A key cause for concern is the nearly absent presence of foreign-born parents.


How can educators fix this endemic?  Schools continue to incorporate technology to bridge the gap between themselves and parents with online grade books and homework schedule while giving the parents a direct link to communicate via e-mail.  These are all excellent ways to promote closer communication but if the parents are unwilling or unable to speak English then it is all for nothing.

Teachers need to take advantage of any resources their school, district, and/or community can offer.  ESOL teachers, bilingual colleagues, or even grant proposals to the district International Review Board can be used to bridge the language barrier and make the parents feel as though they are not being ignored or isolated.

But this does not solve the dilemma found in teachers trying to reach out to apathetic parents who are not concerned with their students’ academic wellbeing.  Strategies for this particular issue are vast.  Parent-teacher collaboration is a delicate relationship with many partnerships failing due to perceived animosity or indifference by one or the other.

Collaboration strategies deserve their own post (which will happen in due time) but here are some basic understandings necessary for positive parent-teacher relations.  Initially, teachers must find a way to get them into the school.  The teacher must be understanding of the parents’ culture and mentality but at the same time they must be persuasive (but not aggressive) in convincing parents of the importance of a proper education.

If possible, assignments can be given to students which involve parent input such as interviews concerning the parents’ interests, hobbies and jobs, or have the students create a piece of art or story illustrating their parents’ family story.  Of course these examples are geared towards a younger audience, but this concept is not limited to them.

Teachers can always utilize the cornerstones of parent-teacher correspondence of letters home, e-mail exchanges, newsletters, and mailed letters to the household, but this will most likely not affect the apathetic parents.

Please share any strategies you have used that have produced stronger parent involvement in their children’s education.

This entry was posted in International Comparisons and tagged , , , , , , by Brad Campbell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Brad Campbell

Brad Campbell is an educational scholar who focuses on curriculum within an international context. He has as Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree from the University of North Georgia and has experience teaching from early through higher education. Brad is an active member in three academic honor societies (Phi Kappa Phi – Interdisciplinary Honor Society, Pi Lambda Theta – Education Honor Society, Phi Alpha Theta – History Honor Society) and was the president of the University of West Georgia’s History Club. He was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and has volunteered for such projects as the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program and Relay for Life. Along with his teaching experience, he has spent summers instructing disadvantaged youth in Chattanooga and metro Atlanta. Currently, he is serving as a committee member for the University of North Georgia’s United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Exhibition.

6 thoughts on “What We Can Learn From China: The Family Matters

  1. Really interesting read, I was actually unaware that our testing structures were so similar to each other. I do have a couple points I’d like to make.

    First I’m not sure if the language barrier is actually that big of a hurdle. Generally speaking the majority of our student base in America do speak English as do their parents. The most significant problem seems to be with the parents and our culture.

    The culture of the United States is one that does not stress academic success or intellectualism. We have Presidential candidates who openly proclaim that college is an evil and unnecessary. Our culture emphasizes athletic achievement over any kind of intellectual ones.

    It seems to me that the major problem facing us is that as a culture we spend too much time downplaying academics and boosting up other pursuits. Clearly the Chinese are the opposite in this regard as are many other nations who out test us consistently.

    • I agree with your points, Joey. The culture of education in America is fatally flawed due to the failure in emphasizing its importance. One thing I failed to write in my post which needs to be taken in to the argument is that China wants to change their curricular approach away from high-stakes exams into something similar to the Finnish project-based model. This is all happening as the United States continues to pull closer to China’s current state of evaluation through standardized tests.

      Regarding language barriers in parents, this is a serious issue in a lot of communities, especially ones with a strong Latino presence. Language is just one issue of many when dealing with foreign-born parents. There are also issues relating to parent ignorance towards how much say they have in their child’s education as well as a much broader misunderstanding of the importance of education. The latter echoes the problem inherit in most apathetic parents, but there have been a great deal of research illustrating the absence of immigrant parents with their children’s education.

      Rick Santorum did not do education any favors by denouncing its importance. But to play devil’s advocate, not all students need to be in high school. Many students would be better served working in vocational schools than in public schools. A boy may not be able to read all that well but he is a genius under the hood of a car. If that is the case, he needs to be applying his best skills towards a career which could earn him a lot of money as well as satisfaction. For parents of these children who are not given the vocational opportunity, the importance of “education” comes off as irrelevant and I am on their side.

      Sports is a killer to education. Teachers are hired for the coaching credentials before their teaching ability. This is especially true in the Social Science field where unable coaches now have a stranglehold. Academics in America is on life support and there is no simple way to fix it.

      • I am in serious agreement with you on two aspects.

        1: Is the blatant disregard for career tracking. Like you said, some students simply do not care about the properties of physics but instead have a passion for rebuilding engines. I know several like that and my hats off to them. The education system in America has done them an extreme disservice. This ties into what Obama initially stated about higher education that prompted the Santorum response.

        Obama’s initial statement:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePvvklGidwc
        Santorum’s Response: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkjbJOSwq3A

        Even Barack saw advancement in terms of Tech school/Vocational training. Santorum seems to favor mediocrity. He’s a Communist.

        2: Is the current stranglehold that Athletics has on the system. There is however a black hole in this argument. Athletics have an important part in the education system. This includes not only keeping kids off the streets but also the potential of certain students to get an education without paying high prices. There is also the fact that athletics brings in substantial amounts of cash for the school. BUT, you have a situation here where education has a hiring crisis. Many schools are going with the most ‘bang for their buck.” That is why coaches dominate the field right now. They do the most for the least. For instance I am coaching right now. My coach’s stipend is less than a dollar an hour or so I’ve been told. It’s all about the money. I think this issue does correlate with what you talked about in the post though; parental involvement. In order to pay for public schools, you have to tax the population. Parents do not like paying taxes. The schools suffer due to this. What is education worth?

  2. Pingback: The (Flawed) Culture of Education Today | The Art of Education

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