I’m an educator. For decades, I’ve learned about how we learn and how we teach. I have experienced education in other countries as a teacher and as a learner, and I continue to learn about education systems around the world. One article that caught my attention recently was about the Chinese education system. It’s not so much the text that I was focused on. Instead, it was this photo that had me staring for a long while. It made me think.
I have learned quite a bit about the Chinese education system through friends, colleagues, students, and academic and non-academic articles. While I don’t have first-hand experience, I have heard about the organization. The restrictions. The long hours. The competition. The standardized tests. This photo gives us a glimpse into that Chinese classroom. The space. The textbooks. The hunched over bodies. It’s quite a view. And so very different from our Canadian classrooms.
Here in Canada, we have public, elementary classrooms full of stability balls, stress toys, and markers in every colour. Teachers have Amazon wishlists for parents (or the general public) to purchase supplies for their classrooms. Because how could they ever live without a whiteboard marker holder? Or a range of Command strip hooks?
At the post-secondary level, we have classrooms with chairs on wheels, so students can move around easily to work in groups. We have a walls of whiteboards to encourage problem-solving (when sometimes all we really need is a paper and pencil). We have rooms with several projectors, so that a professor’s PowerPoint presentation can be projected on multiple screens and so that student groups can project their work for ongoing discussion and feedback. The students I meet often complain about purchasing textbooks. About night classes. About morning classes. Phones are brought into classes, and often used for educational purposes. I regularly ask my students to use their phones (or whatever device they have) to look something up, to read something, or to submit work. It is rare for my students to come to the university classroom without a device of sorts.
In many Canadian classrooms, we love space. Students spread out. They don’t seem to like sitting too close to one another. If I teach in a large classroom, for example, students may opt to take one, two, or three spots for themselves, leaving an empty seat (or several) between them and their neighbour. We still have the desks-in-rows seating arrangement, but we’re moving away from this set-up. At the elementary level, this is generally a thing of the past (the long ago past).
Education around the world is so very different, I know. I shouldn’t be surprised to see photos like the one above. But I am. And I’m glad it makes me think about how we teach and learn in different contexts, how my education has given me freedom to learn, and how I can continue to make contributions in my academic work.