The PISA scores for 15 year olds around the world were recently released. While these scores do offer some indication as to how students from a given country compare, we should be reticent to make took much of these scores. Shanghai in particular is a city where much ado has been made about apparently high scores. This amalgamation of articles on China Digital Times points our many of the flaws in drawing to many inferences from Shanghai’s high scores. I would like to add a few points not included in the article.
1) Do we know ALL schools in Shanghai took these exams? Especially the schools created for a populated 100% by the children of migrant workers? I doubt very much these schools took part in the PISA exams.
2) Shanghai school quality cannot be compared to that of the Chinese countryside where the vast majority of Children still reside in China. (This assumes that Tier 3 cities and smaller are in reality rural areas versus urban areas). These schools in the countryside lack qualified teachers and are far behind in using technology in the classrooms. In fact only 40 of rural students attend high school, versus more than 80% in urban areas.
I will be writing string of articles here at filterpret and some of my other writing venues about education in China. Today’s short input is about parent’s missing the forest for the trees. This article at IB Times discusses early childhood education classes in China focused on teaching MBA style skills. Instead of seeing these classes as part of a larger picture to help children become ready to thrive and excel in the 21st century, notice how these classes are sold to help kids more than a decade away from college be better prepared to conquer the skills needed for college entrance exams. China’s education system is already horribly broken and instead of making changes the CCP and parents seem more than prepared to double down on what is clearly not working. Can anyway tell me the definition of insanity again…..
I had a large post all written up about the 15-year-old that defaced a cultural icon in Egypt’s Luxor. Instead, I have decided to concentrate on a broader picture of what ails China. The issue I see is not with one person or any one event; it lies with looking at the sum of events through the prism of cultural and historical understanding.
This piece in CDT is great starting point, as it does a fine job aggregating comments on the People’s Daily series about “Dishonest Americans”. As foreigners we shouldn’t be angry about such “news”, we should applaud them. In general, these types of articles are a fundamental part of what we consider freedom of the press. It isn’t the fact there are articles pointing out the “bad” side of Americans that is of concern, it’s the fact these types of articles almost never reflect a counterpoint. Even more concerning is the reality that these types of stories are not allowed when they expose the “bad” size of China, the Chinese people and especially the Chinese government. The Ministry of Truth Section of CDT is as far as one needs to go to see this in action. The latest directive is to limit coverage of child sexual abuse! Having several friends who work in journalism in China, I know first hand the validity of these directives aimed at maintaining “social cohesion”.
Even when we do get shows or articles exposing official malfeasance, we (both foreigners and the Chinese populace) cannot trust the authenticity of such pieces. A great example is this TV show in Wuhan (here and here). On the surface it seems perfect, yet knowing how controlled the state media is in China, how can we know the whole thing is not scripted? Are programs like this a genuine attempt to become more transparent and involve citizens in fixing government malfeasance Or are these types of programs essentially a feint to distract from the lack of real reform?
Returning to our young Chinese vandal in Luxor, we all recognize what he did was stupid and offensive. Yet can, or should we, blame a whole nation for a spoiled and ignorant 15-year-old? My answer is no. Yet what would have happened if a foreign 15-year-old did something proportionally stupid in China? It would not be a far stretch to say it would be made out as a slander against China’s National honor and a purposeful affront to Chinese culture.
Would this be because most Chinese feel this way? Or because the State sees a benefit in villainizing foreigners and taking it from the individual to the national level? Many Chinese recognize news reports like “Dishonest Americans” for the distractions they are. Unfortunately, as is true in any society, there are to many who swallow these claims whole. For China to grow and tackle the massive issues facing their society, there must be a complete change in how the people and the government interact. The people need to feel their government listens to their views, that their views appropriately represented by the media and that they are not told constantly what to think and when. Only through these changes can China’s citizens begin to trust the government again. A great place to start is by ending the constant flow of national, even jingoistic, rhetoric.
This last week nothing really caught my eye to write about on filterpret. Between being slightly more introspective than normal and being extra busy no news or ideas set of the chain of thought required to sit down and write out my opinion in matter. That brief silence broke yesterday when I came up with enough material to last a week or two. So keep your eyes open for a post a day this week.
For today’s post we will skip cool science and talk about how a little knowledge can be dangerous. Recently I have met a few people (non-Chinese) who lived in the same city as I did in China. During my conversations with them it struck me how little they knew about the city. Even more revealing was how little knowledge they had about the daily grind of living in China, in some cases their facts being 100% incorrect.
It is conversations such as these which reinforce my belief knowledge needs to be grounded in a background. It is necessary to know the source of the knowledge, opposing views, historical background etc. Otherwise too little knowledge can be easily and readily filterpreted in ways that create misunderstanding. I typically refer to this situation as possessing knowledge with no context.
Akin to a lack of context is when you have some background knowledge and some basic knowledge, but not enough information to make informed decisions. Essentially too little knowledge/information also leads to filterpreting and assumptions, which lead to incorrect understanding and decisions. This is not to say that people do not filterpret when they have all the necessary data, but that is a different situation and has more to do with their individual preconceptions than with a lack of information.
Great amalgamation of some recent articles on gender issues in China here at the China Digital Times. For anyone who is interested in this topic this review of my good friend Professor John Osburg’s book at Tea Leaf Nation adds a lot to this conversation.
One of the key signs that China has reached an inflection pint in their development is the fact that gender equality on all fronts is getting worse, not better. Here are some key examples:
- Female unemployment in urban areas is rising
- The gender wage disparity is rising
- The gender gap is still slowly rising
- More and more women feel they do not need to work, just find a rich husband
- It is nearly impossible for a woman to become Mayor, or Party Secretary at any committee level of the CCP
- While female entrepreneurship is on the rise, there are no female bosses in most companies and industries
- Rape, stalking and other violent crime against women is steadily increasing
Overall, the reality on the ground for women paints the same picture of China’s choices as do the environment, food safety, and corruption; if China does not act soon to overcome these issues, no one can accurately predict what will happen. What is assured, is the fact that it will not be good for the people of China or the world.
This Fox News piece about the blocked protests in Chengdu is a great read. The tone of the piece is focused on a key idea – If China’s government would be open and transparent about what’s being done and why in regards to the environment, maybe just maybe the people would begin to trust the government again. Instead, the government continues to squash any level of protest and public involvement in this area. I especially enjoyed these two quotes.
1) “What do they fear?” asked local resident Tina Zhong, contacted via China’s social media. “If the government can share more information, the public would be less distrusting.”
2) Ma Jun of the nongovernmental Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs said solving environmental disputes through public demonstrations carries both social and economic costs. “The best place to solve the conflicts should be inside a town hall rather than in the street,” said Ma. He said “the public needs to be able to learn the details about such projects and to participate in the decision-making process.”
I love this article on CNN’s iReport. It is refreshing to see someone in the field write so honestly about these issues. I consulted in this industry in 2006 and 2007. During my time I witnessed many students submit clearly falsified transcripts and nearly 80% have their admissions essays written by employees of the education consulting firm. I also was only involved with the students from the best high schools seeking early admission to the Top 20 US Universities. I completely agree that it is both educational systems, not just the China side, that is creating the incentives for this type of behavior. While it is true many US Universities have become aware of these issues, it is equally true they are not acting fast enough to change how they recruit and evaluate potential Chinese students.