News / Asia

Seeking Creativity, Asian Educators Look to US Programs

President Barack Obama and students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia, Sept. 16, 2011.
President Barack Obama and students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia, Sept. 16, 2011.

American high school students perennially rank behind their Asian counterparts in standardized math and science tests, but in a surprising twist, some countries that rank above the United States want to learn from the best American high schools.

While Chinese and South Korean schools, in particular, are excellent at preparing students to excel in test taking, experts say they are realizing the limitations of their systems and the need to incorporate creativity and critical thought into their high school curricula.

“Schools around China, especially in developed areas like Shanghai and Beijing, are exploring education reforms with help from government,” said Xing Xu, a writer for Shanghai Education, a bi-weekly publication of the Shanghai Education Commission. “Some of them have got some good results: less homework, less memorizing, more discussion and practice.”

Xu added that top U.S. high schools place great emphasis on student initiative and practical experience, things “Chinese students lack.”

Li Jing, the deputy principal and director of international programs at the high school affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing, said China launched an educational curriculum reform in 2010 “aiming to promote a more student-centered learning setting, as well as to encourage students' creativity and critical thinking.”

One of the goals of that 10-year plan is to “learn advanced education ideas and experience from other countries in the world.”

South Korea, where students consistently rank near the best in the world in math and science, is also interested learning about top American schools.

“The proportion of creativity and emotional and character education is lacking [in Korea] compared to academics,” said Kwak Bong-jong, who until recently, was an education officer at the Korean Embassy in Washington, DC.

Adam Wojciechowicz, a spokesman for the embassy, said in an e-mail that Korea is not searching for a direct model upon which to base its own schools, which meet fairly high standards as it is. But because of the strong interest in all levels of education in Korean society, he said, they are trying to keep informed about new trends, ideas, curriculums and models of teaching in the U.S., especially at top schools. "They are continually striving to improve,” he said.

Ilryong Moon, a member of the Fairfax County School Board, located in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, said that while South Korean schools have been very successful, they need to foster more creativity and analytical thinking “if they want to go another notch higher.”

Moon, a Korean-American who came to the U.S. in the 1970s, said the current system in South Korea is so deeply entrenched that no one knows how to change it.

“When they talk about education reform in South Korea, even if a high percentage of parents think they need to find a better system, no one will want to have their kids be the guinea pigs,” he said.

South Korean and Chinese officials seeking potential inspiration from top schools in the U.S., often call on Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, located in Fairfax County.

There is “extreme interest” from Asian educators, press and government officials, particularly Chinese and Korean, in American top schools, said Evan Glazer, the principal of Thomas Jefferson High School, which is considered one of the best in the U.S. The school is so highy regarded for its innovative approach that on Sept. 16, President Barack Obama traveled there to sign the America Invents Act, the first update to patent law since 1952.

“We get an extraordinary amount of visits from schools and officials from Asian countries,” Glazer said. “This summer, I hosted 75 principals from China. We’re usually one of the stops. They’re usually doing a national tour. I think they want to make the best American schools the baseline.”

Other schools visited included the Illinois Math and Science Academy, Andover and Exeter.

Interviewed in a recent article in Shanghai Education, Glazer was asked how Thomas Jefferson fosters critical thinking, creativity, getting out of the classroom environment, student-teacher collaboration, and how to combine science and math with liberal arts.

During a recent visit to Thomas Jefferson, it was easy to see why there is so much interest in it.

It’s a so-called magnet school, meaning a school with a specialized curriculum that attracts students from a larger geographic area than a regular public school, which draws from a defined area. It was established in 1985, as a result of a partnership of businesses and schools with the goal of improving education in science, mathematics and technology.

While the curriculum focuses on math and science, there’s a heavy dose of liberal arts, electives and foreign language study. There’s a stress on creativity as well as analytical and critical thought.

Students conduct university-level research in specialized laboratories in fields such as microelectronics, neuroscience and biotechnology. These labs give students opportunities for independent research and experimentation, as well as a chance for interaction with professionals from various fields through a mentorship program.

This kind of self-directed, hands-on, creative, collaborative curriculum is rare in China and South Korea, where the main focus of high school is to prepare for college entrance exams, often through intense rote memorization and a standardized curriculum.

A standardized curriculum implies almost all schools offer the same curriculum in order to reach the same standards.

“That means there has not been a lot of flexibility to try alternative curriculum approaches,” said Glazer in an email.  “In recent years, however, China has been developing ‘experimental schools,’ an effort to offer unique curriculum without accomplishing the same national standards as other schools.  In essence, they are starting to give schools more freedom in the learning opportunities to students.”

Glazer added that while the U.S. has explored various kinds of specialized schools, “lately the U.S. education system is pushing for more national standardization - similarities in curricula across states.”

Interestingly, according to Glazer, the trends in the U.S. are heading more in that direction.

Glazer said he “sees the pendulum in China swinging away from standardized curriculum," while it's "swinging the other way in the U.S.”

Interestingly, according to Glazer, the trends in the U.S. are heading more in that direction.

Glazer said he “sees the pendulum in China swinging away from standardized curriculum, while I see it swinging the other way in the U.S.”

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs