When it comes to choosing a school, nothing is more important than finding the right fit for your child. With so many schools in Beijing, having a good understanding of a school’s curriculum can help parents narrow down their choices. In this feature, we outline nine different types of curricula and chatted with Beijing parents and students about the strengths of each.
Chinese National Curriculum
The current Chinese public school system is based on revisions to national education that followed the introduction of the "Four Modernizations" presented by Zhou Enlai in 1974. These four goals – to develop agriculture, industry, technology, and defense – are considered the pillars of modern education in China.
Who does it target?
Local Chinese students, of course. When bilingual or merged education programs are available in Beijing, they generally target families who want their child to be fully immersed in a Chinese-language curriculum in order to understand local culture and emerge from the school system fully literate in Mandarin. The international student sections of local schools also target Chinese families who want their kids to have a solid foundation in English and Western culture for eventual study overseas.
How is it applied?
Structured as a "6-3-3" schedule (six years of primary school and three years each of middle and high school), the Chinese education system relies heavily on public funding. Schools vie for the designation of “key school,” which grants them more government allocations. These schools are considered the most prestigious and enroll the most academically-gifted students. At the secondary level, “key schools” are similar to college prep schools in the US. National entrance exams are required for admission into both "senior middle school” (American high school) and university. Schools in Beijing that teach the Chinese National Curriculum through a bilingual model usually assess a child’s Mandarin skills before granting admission.
Critics of the local system often cite its over-reliance on rote memorization and test scores, creating incredible pressure for Chinese youth to succeed. However, in 2010 the government took steps towards education reform by loosening control over the national curriculum. Though schools have not for the most part adopted these measures, many families are starting to demand more emphasis on self-directed learning, creativity, whole-child development, and critical thinking skills.
Why should parents consider it?
The single greatest benefit is complete immersion in Mandarin. All or most subjects are taught in Chinese, leading to literacy and fluency in the world’s most-spoken language. Additional benefits include an environment in which Confucian ideology provide teachers with palpable respect. Not only do they enjoy untaxed salaries and a national holiday (Teacher’s Day), but students are expected to obey their instructions without question, making classrooms much stricter than in Western schools. If your child would benefit from more discipline, a Chinese classroom may be the answer. In general, Chinese students are also better at math than their American counterparts, a difference that has been attributed to everything from teaching methodology to student motivation.
How well does this education system prepare students for the real world?
There are more than 100 million people learning Mandarin all over the world. Establishing fluency early can provide them with an edge in their future careers. In addition, the Chinese National Curriculum reinforces self-discipline and a strong work ethic through longer school hours and more homework. There is a built-in belief that all children can achieve regardless of their background – as long as they put in the effort.
Spotlight: Beijing No. 4 High School
Fifteen-year-old Pravin Venkat Sarma is an international student at Beijing No. 4 High School. The Singaporean native has lived in Beijing for 14 years.
What do you like about the Chinese National Curriculum?
The way of learning under the Chinese National Curriculum will generate long-term memory for students. It provides a solid foundation and enables us to prepare for university study. Also, we study classic Chinese literature and reflect on passages, which often teach a profound philosophy on life. It’s important to understand more about Chinese culture since China is going to take a more significant role in the world economy and in environmental protection.
What are the challenges?
There are many subjects in this curriculum, and learning how to manage time is the key to success. We have to look after all subjects, understand them, and master the knowledge.
What’s the most interesting project you have worked on this year?
The school organizes projects to choose from, including many self-study projects. Most recently, I finished one on the history of Singapore’s ruling political party and am now working on a project related to automotive engineering, which will last the whole semester. I want to be an automotive engineer in the future, so being able to study this now gives me a solid foundation. The most important thing is that I have very good teachers and classmates who help me with the problems I don’t understand.