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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs