Our own Beijing biases aside, it seems that Shanghai has a number of things going for it – i.e. a better system of roads, superior customer service, generally tastier cuisine – when stacked up against its Great Northern Rival (namely, us).
This list now apparently includes a far better school system – one so good, in fact, that it’s now being touted as the best in the world.
A recent blog post on The Diplomat by Jiang Xueqin (a deputy principal at Peking University High School and former journalist, filmmaker and UN press officer) describes how and why Shanghai’s school system has come out on top of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD’s, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) list each year since 2009:
Nations such as South Korea, Finland, and Singapore have traditionally topped the rankings, but, apparently, even they are no match for Shanghai, which shoved the others into lower positions in its very first year of participation in the programme, in 2009.
Jiang interviewed Andreas Schleicher, the programme director and architect, to get more insight and asked him why Shanghai’s school system has been so dominant on this list. The simple answer? Shanghainese students have been equipped with creative thinking skills that can be applied to "real-world situations."
According to Schleicher, Shanghai’s education system is distinctive and superior—and not just globally, but also nationally. Hong Kong, Beijing, and ten Chinese provinces participated in the 2009 PISA, but their results reflected education systems that were still the same-old knowledge acquisition models, whereas Shanghai had progressed to equipping students with the ability to interpret and extrapolate information from text and apply it to real world situations—what we would normally refer to as ‘creativity.’ Twenty-six percent of Shanghai 15 year-olds could demonstrate advanced problem-solving skills, whereas the OECD average is 3 percent.
Other differentiating factors the article cites include a consistent and real commitment to investing in education on the part of the Shanghai municipal government (Case in point: according to the article, "the Shanghai municipal government will invest 22.4 billion yuan annually on its schools, whereas the Chinese national government will invest 299.2 billion yuan for all of China"), an incentive system of tangible rewards for school administrators and educators alike to improve the schools, and a focus on "collaborative and creative learning" that "motivates students to learn for themselves, rather than receive "force-fed information."
Taken in this context, Beijing schools seem woefully out of step when compared to the Shanghai model, which, as the article implies, seems motivated in part by the city’s population of hyper-competitive Tiger Parents.
This is not to say that Beijing doesn’t have equally competitive parents who are firmly, if not obsessively, committed to their childrens’ educations – but in a city where schools are either completely over-crowded (i.e. the public schools), or routinely overpriced (i.e. private schools), one can’t help but envy our not-so-distant neighbors down south.
Add to the fact that the demand here in the Capital far outweighs the supply of quality schools and you have the trappings of a classic seller’s market – small wonder that it seems many (but not all, mind you) schools in Beijing simply don’t have the motivations/pressure to continually improve their curriculum and recruit and train better quality teachers.
One also wonders if China’s National Ministry of Education will perk up, listen and learn from Shanghai’s example and apply the model nationwide – and while they’re at it, get a better regulatory grip on Capital’s booming private school industry.