Is China becoming “creative” in their educational teaching philosophy?

The follow excerpts were taken from Dr. Peggy Vong’s book, “Evolving Creativity: New Pedagogies for Young Children in China.”  This book is assigned reading in OSU’s course “American Schools and Society.”  This quarter’s  focus topic was Creativity in the classroom.

Peggy Vong studied preschools in Japan, China, and the U.S.  In this study,  she compared how two schools in China approached the concept of creativity and interactive play in the classroom.  The schools bear resemblence to American schools in that one was of blue-collar, middle class background and culture, while the other caters to more affluent parents.  While many people think China is more traditional in its approach,  new evidence points to the learning environments within the country becoming exceedingly interactive as teachers have begun placing a higher value on creativity.

Current Quality Education goals in China:

Quality Education “refers to the kind of education that, through scientific educational means, would fully realize the potential an individual is born with, increase their different ability levels, maximize the acquisition of an well-rounded and harmonious development, and produce qualified nationals for Chinese society” (Vong, 2008, p.2).    Some Chinese scholars explain it as “based on the goal of enhancing the goodness and virtues of the nationals where the focus is to promote students’ inspiration to innovate” (p.2).  According to Luo (1997), there are seven goals or “basic principles” of Quality Education in China (p. 3).  They are:

  1.  Children should be considered as the main figure in learning, whose initiatives, creativeness and eagerness in learning should be stimulated.
  2. Education should promote the abilities and potential in every child, and every teacher has to pay attention to their own behavior and attitudes.
  3. Children’s physical, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic development should be fostered in a  balanced fashion.
  4. Pedagogical approaches should cater to the developmental needs of children instead of rushing them through the teaching objectives designed in advance.
  5. Teachers should recognize that there are individual differences in learning, and promote children’s development on the basis of their actual performance level.  This principle requires teachers to be observant adults who are sensitive to children’s abilities and where their zone of proximal development lie so as to design the appropriate teaching methods for the children.
  6. Teachers should create and design opportunities and conditions to guide children to take initiatives in different learning activities so as to enrich quality of their own mind and body.
  7. Education should focus on fostering children’s creativeness, and Quality Education must be implemented creatively which includes the creation and establishment of different models of Quality Education to suit different regions, conditions, and children.

What is the basis for the Project Approach? 

The Project approach “is a set of pedagogical strategies, renowned for fostering children’s independent thinking and expression of creative ideas through art work activities chosen by children, or by children and their teachers.  The teachers use their understanding of the children’s abilities and past experiences to integrate their interests and needs to design flexible and hypothetical plans for the teaching and learning events” (Vong,  2008, p.16).   It is project based.  Chard (2001) further defines the project approach as “a set of teaching strategies which enable teachers to guide children through in-depth studies of real world topics” (p.16).  Basically, this approach engages students in the learning process, allows them to co-construct their learning activities,  and helps “bridge the gap between a child as “self” and their outside world” (p. 17).  Students also engage in role playing, and are allowed time later to “reflect” with their teachers on their actions and decisions during these role-playing times. It is quite interesting and sometimes even amusing to watch how creative children at this age can be.

Children are individuals and capable of imagination and creating learning experiences for themselves.   Such an approach allows them to “use different materials and different methods to represent their thoughts and ideas” (p. 16).   They are highly engaged in the process as the learning is very individualized.  “As the children and teachers progress, the plan is adjusted to accommodate children’s interests, needs, and curiosity” (p.17).   This approach encourages independent thinking, and for the children to be creative and use their imagination.   It also provides time to self-reflect.   Also, as a key idea in several creativity theories and models (i.e. Wallas, Guilford)  it is the “process rather than the end product which is valued” (p.17).

Differences observed in teacher/student backgrounds between the two preschools- Macao and Zhuhai? 

Similar to those found in America, Vong describes the difference in the two schools as “multicultural and multilingual Macao meets monolingual and monocultural  Zhuhai in a quest to develop the same goals, materials and curricula” (p. x).  Macao is more of a blue-collar town.  Zhuhai, more educated and affluent.    Zhuhai is a special economic zone and includes numerous government officials.

Interestingly, when Vong talked with teachers in Macoa, the more middle-class preschool, the teachers were concerned about “parent ideas of what young children should learn at kindergartens, and governmental support for kindergarten resources.  This may be because the middle class population is more concerned with advancing the education of their students to gain access to the upper class. They also had job-related concerns.  Teachers in Macao find it difficult to deal with the high teacher-child ratio, heavy workload, and inadequate support to implement new pedagogies” (p. xii).  Contrast the above with the interview she had with parents of students in Zhuhai whose main concerns were whether their children were well cared for.  They were concerned about the “nutritional level of the meals provided and whether the children got a nap after lunch.” Similarly, the upper class students are not as concerned that their children will excel, rather that they will  be well cared for, and enjoy school.(p. xiii)

While play and interaction is playing a larger role in the classroom, Chinese parents still stay focused on achievement.  Both groups were concerned about the school’s ability to “boost students’ academic performance” (p. xiii).  For example, in Zhuhai, parents want their children to learn reading, writing and math as opposed to having long periods of play time.  Nevertheless, Chinese classrooms are changing and embracing a more interactive, engaging, and creative format in their classrooms.

What can the U. S. learn from China’s Project Approach?

Though play has not been embraced as a core principle in Chinese schools, this is slowly changing. China has always been a leader in intellectual development. The fact that Chinese educators are becoming more and more concerned with creativity leads us to believe that intellectual knowledge can be bolstered by the creative process. Clearly, the development of creative processes will bring inspiration to the advancement of technology and culture in individuals.

The U. S. has included the arts and play in early education for decades, however, the trend for the past several years has been to focus more and more on intellectual development. Perhaps it would be prudent to keep our eyes on this initiative in China, rather than turning our focus so intently on academic test scores.