Rupert Murdoch, in a highly informative and immensely readable series of lectures, has amongst many other things, used China as an example of the way education can change lives.
He used China as an example of how education might be conducted in his ideal world.
The obstacles they have to overcome are as difficult and challenging as any we face here. Recently, for example, American public television ran a special called Chinese Prep, which followed five students through their final year at an elite high school. These students are competing for slots at the top universities in a system based almost entirely on merit. The pressure is intense, and most Australians watching would probably think that the time and effort these boys and girls put into their studies is inhumane.
Now, the high school in this film is elite, and it is far from representative of the schools that most Chinese attend. But the interesting thing about this program is the emphasis on competition, on merit, on doing well on standardised tests.
Some of the children who do end up doing well come from very poor backgrounds. The television cameras showed that one of them lived in essentially a hut in the countryside.
But no one makes allowances for them. They compete with the children of high officials. And they succeed. In a sense, the entire school system is taking a lesson from Confucius, who observed sagely, as a sage does: ‘If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.’
I am not saying that Chinese education is perfect. It certainly is not. But it is clear that in a system where you are expected to perform, there is less slacking off.