So this is the way it works, now. Read Thomas Friedman about how the World is Flat and that the Chinese are immersing their kids in the study of math and science and pumping out engineers at a rapid clip, and then, just to make sure, ring up an edublogger in Shanghai using a free Internet phone service to do some fact checking.
I got to spend about 20 mintues on a Skype call chatting with Jeff Utecht this afternoon (about 5 am his time) about what it’s like to teach in China, the state of the Chinese blogosphere, and what Chinese kids do after school. It was really interesting on a number of levels, first the incredible quality of the call from literally half a world away, and second, obviously, getting the lowdown on whether Friedman is just trying to scare our socks off or really telling it like it is. (Apparently, it’s the latter, which seems to provoke the former in quite a few people these days.) The only downside was that we had planned on doing this using Gizmo so that we could record it, but unfortunately, his install wasn’t working. Maybe next time.
Jeff has been teaching abroad for the last four years, three in Saudi Arabia and since August in Shanghai at the American School there. About 40% of his students hold U.S. passports and the remainder are Chinese tuition students. He’s teaching kindergarten, first and fifth grades, and the cool part is that his 130 fifth graders are all blogging over at David Warlick’s Blogmeister site, a blogging site it seems the Chinese government hasn’t decided to block…yet. Right now, all the Blogger blogs are out of sight, literally, as are many other blog servers. (Apparently even Tim Wilson’s Savvy Technologist blog is being blocked, even though the RSS feed gets through. So far, this site is still accessible…guess I’m not as politically extreme as Tim…) He hopes to get his first graders podcasting in the near future.
While the American kids go home and play soccer, the Chinese kids go home and get tutored in math and science for four hours. Jeff said that was more at the parents urging than anything else. They see it as a way to improve their kids’ lives, and to eventually be taken care of by their children. And while he’s only halfway through the book, Jeff says so far Friedman is “spot on” in his portrayal of how the world (at least in China) is changing. Shanghai is a boomtown, and everyone downtown is trading something, textiles, parts, whatever.
Jeff said he hadn’t really had a chance to spend time in any of the Chinese schools yet, and I was wondering if any of the Read/Write Web tools we’re playing with are being used over there. But I tend to doubt it. As Jeff said, he can’t imagine what would happen to that society should the Chinese get full access to the ideas and the tools on the Web right now. The world would definitely shake if that happened.
Really interesting stuff. And I just think it’s so wild that I could connect with him from my living room here in little old Stockton, NJ, for free no less. Even better, Jeff can add his own take to this little report should he get the urge (providing I haven’t been censored…) None of this could have happened even a few years ago.
What a cool new world this is.
Josh Thomas says
Great post, thanks Will. I do have one question (for Jeff I suppose) … One of my colleagues, Dr. Valerie Brown, spent three weeks in China last fall, as part of a Education Policy/Business Leader group from our state (NC). The goal of the trip was to learn more about education and education policy in China (Valerie and her group will be heading to India in January — I’m hoping I can have her blog that trip).
Anyway, her take-away from the trip to China was the vast majority of Chinese kids “being left behind” (NCLB politics aside, I think you understand what I mean). Valerie’s impression was that only the very top % (3? 5? 10?) of students go to (or are selected for) school of any consequence.
This doesn’t mean the Chinese aren’t doing many things very well and very right, and I certainly don’t want this notion to cloud or excuse or to rationalize what we’re doing here (we’re certainly doing many things very poorly and very wrong).
I guess my question(s) are these: Is this an accurate portrayal of Chinese education? How (if it does at all) does this inform what we’re trying to accomplish in the US? What specifically can we learn from China that can be applied here, given our student populations, etc?