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.