Project-based education vs. strict curricula vs. test-based /高考
When you want to see people going berserk, go watch a MMA fight Kungfucius style; or go to attend a discussion about education. Every parent has an opinion and will let that opinion be heard.
Roughly speaking, there are two opposite opinions when it comes to primary and secondary education.
Primitive education by workforce integration
One way is a complete laissez-faire method and integrating children in young years into the work-force. This method has worked more or less in most rigid, agrarian based economies for millenia. You could say, there is a clear historical track record but no beta testing.
The drawback of that help-me-in-the-rice-field method is that society becomes rather rigid. Children step into their parents’ field of work. In such a society, there is little mobility and little innovation and of course, there won’t be much of a discussion about education.
Planned education by education methods
We clearly all live in a different world. No matter if you live in Spain, the US or China, you very well might have a strong opinion about education. The polarization of discussions about education in the US is one symptom of the importance society regards formal education to be.
This second method is much more diverse compared to the integration into the work force method. Diverse in sense of perspectives, ideas, but also outcomes.
Some education systems are rotten to the core. Students get in touch with gangs, violence, and drugs. Yet, even relatively successful education systems work in three quite different ways:
US project-based education method
In the US, Canada and some other education systems in anglo-saxon countries, students have a lot of choice. Students chose their subjects and often only have 4-6 different subjects during a term and in those classes students often work on projects. Sometimes in teams. Learning can be quite practical and there is a lot of input and discussion.
Can you compare the outcome of one schools drama class with the outcome of another schools? Well, you can, but not in an objective way. A curriculum often exists, but there is flexibility in implementation.
European curricula-based method
In Europe, societies don’t appreciate the flexibility and openness of the Anglo-saxon education system.
There must be a lack of focus if there are projects and courses about drama and physics.
Europe’s approach is often a more centralized, national curriculum that schools should then follow. The goal is that every student reads and learns the same humanistic, linguistic and scientific curriculum and this should create a plain level field for all members of society. The individuum has less to freedom of choice and more systemic boundaries. But that’s good from a European perspective. Nobody should be left behind and all should learn the basics.
Grades are more important but it is not easily comparable as people have different schools, teachers and there is no uniform test, but rather grades are provided over years.
In China, learning Chengyus can be seen as a curriculum-based education method.
The Asian test-based system
In Asia, especially in areas influenced by rigid learning and curriculum, modern education is based on tests. And the pinnacle of that are often single tests that decide the outcome of education, the entry into the most prestigious universities and with that much of the flow of the remaining academic and professional life over decades.
What system is best?
Kungfucius has a clear opinion on that: A combination.
For millennia I have argued that there should be a curriculum that should be followed. Yet, over time this curriculum should be adjusted and Asian and European societies are sometimes too slow to adjust. Latin and classical Chinese might not be as important any longer than programming skills.
Projects and team-projects should be an important part of the experience as well as integration in real workforce to get exposure early on without the burden of pre-determination.
Kungfucius knows that in Kung Fu, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. This means that an education system should also have some flexibility to adjust. Plus: Sometimes people fail in one test. That doesn’t mean they are not eligible to do great work later on. The opposite is the case: There needs to be societal fluidity that allows talents to switch careers and implement an idea of life long learning.
In terms of learning Chinese, schools are moving towards such a combination. So far, many schools have rigid HSK word lists as a very important aspect and these will be tested in centralized, comparable tests. Yet, there are more modern methods including situation, drama, role plays, audio-visual material to learn Chinese.