According to recent studies, China is home to one of the best education systems in the world, while Britain is trailing a long way behind. In some studies Chinese students are three years ahead of British students in reading and writing ability.
China is well known for its ‘tough education’ methods, but can these methods be used to improve the performance of British students? In a recent BBC documentary: ‘Are our kids tough enough? Chinese school’ a field experiment was conducted to find out.
five Chinese teachers took over the education of a class of fifty Year 9 pupils at Bohunt School in Liphook and taught them (in one class of 50!) using Chinese teaching methods for a month, and then tested in English, Maths, Science and Mandarin, and the results compared to other students who remained receiving a more typical British Education.
The main features of the Chinese School consisted of:
- The school day being 12 hours long with a 7 a.m. start consisting of a flag raising ceremony and outdoor exercises.
- In the classroom, most lessons were essentially lectures. Teachers stood at the front writing the theory on the board, while the students (were supposed to) take notes and learn.
- PE was a compulsory – and students were timed, tested and ranked against each other.
The ultimate test of the experiment was to see if Chinese teaching methods improved educational performance – which they did (or at least appeared to have – see below). Students who attended the Chinese School for four weeks scored about 10% points (on average) higher in Mandarin, Maths and Science and they also did better in English, but with a smaller margin.
The experiment also revealed that there was something of a culture clash – those students were not particularly self-disciplined or well-behaved did not respond well to a Chinese style of teaching which is less student-centered and not as inclined to encourage individualism.
Limitations of the field experiment
I say that the Chinese-School kids achieved better test scores – what we’re not told is how much they improved, or what their ability was compared to the control group. I’m assuming all this was controlled for.
The Hawthorne Effect might apply – the improved results might be a result of the students knowing their involved in an experiment (and knowing they’re on TV) or the better results might simply exposing the kids to something different, rather than it being about those exact Chinese methods (a change is as good as a rest!)
It’s also not clear how representative this school is – Bohunt seems to be a brilliant school, enlightened (which is reflected in getting involved in this whole experiment in the first place). Would you get the same findings somewhere else?
Ethics: Some (wrong) individuals might try and argue that some of the children experienced harm to their self-esteem by being ranked in PE (other (right) individuals might argue this is just life, tough, get over it kiddo).
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Field Experiments in Sociology
Unstructured Interviews in the Context of Education