An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
AS a student studying and living in China, I’ve seen and experienced so many things including the education system.
One of the most observable differences is the number of students in class. Chinese teachers typically teach two classes of 55-65 students in an eight period day. In PNG I’m more used to class sizes of 25-30.
For decades, China has utilized ‘the cohort system’. A cohort is a group of students who work together to achieve the same academic outcome.
Throughout China, once in a class, students stay together for their entire schooling unless higher test scores permit them to move to a more advanced group.
In Papua New Guinea, students are not grouped into such classes. Instead, the 30 students who are together for English will be randomly split into the subjects for the next period and the period after that.
The next year, the students are again mixed into different classes. Occasionally, the same class of students will take two courses together, such as English and history, but that is rare. The Chinese carry the cohort concept into university as well.
Looping is another system - when a teacher moves with his or her students to the next grade level rather than sending them to another teacher at the end of the school year. This is an idea that is growing in popularity in the United States, Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Among the advantages touted by looping teachers are students' easy adjustment to the second year with the same teacher, the teacher’s existing awareness of student interests and needs, and the ease of communication between teachers and parents who are familiar with one another.
Among the possible drawbacks for teachers is that they may have difficult students two years in a row; and for students, that they might have a more difficult transition to the next grade after having the same teacher for two years.
For many reasons, students with special needs are the biggest beneficiaries of looping.
Papua New Guinean teachers, on the other hand, tend to specialise in the curriculum and content for a particular grade level and then stay at that level.
Sometimes, teachers who want to teach older students will ask to move to a higher grade, and that teacher would typically stay at that level until retirement.
Some teachers and administrators see respect in school as a one way street. Teachers see themselves as deserving respect from all students under all conditions. However, in healthy adult child relationships in the home and at school, respect goes both ways.
And in contemporary society and in the contemporary classroom, respect is not a given, it needs to be earned.
Chinese students in the classroom are very respectful to their teachers. When Chinese students recite, they stand; when students hand in a paper, they use both hands as if they were making a presentation of the paper to the teacher; when students refer to their teacher in writing, they often use terminology such as “our dear teacher.”
One of the head teachers I spoke with said that it is their duty to teach students how to do well in life and how to be a man or a woman. University students, when asked to recall their middle school and high school years, often speak of their teachers in exalted ways and say how much their teachers meant to them.
A major way in which Chinese and PNG high schools differ is in the way information is taught. In PNG, personal expression is valued heavily. Many classes are based around discussion of the material, and teachers expect students to be engaged in this dialogue.
Classroom participation is a significant part of a student’s grade, so a student who is attentive but never speaks up could receive a lower grade as a result.
Chinese classrooms do not place this same emphasis on participation. Instruction is based on the teacher lecturing and the students listening quietly. This means that students can do well in class by being diligent and attentive, but it also means that there is less interaction between teacher and students. This difference extends to the overall classroom attitude.
In PNG classrooms, students are likely to talk not only when participating in discussion but also when talking out of turn. As a result, the classroom can become noisy and boisterous. Students often develop a friendly relationship with teachers over the course of the year.
In short, Chinese classrooms are teacher focused while Papua New Guinean classrooms are more student focused.
A Chinese teacher is more likely to deliver the answer whereas a Papua New Guinean teacher is more likely to give students some basic knowledge and subsequently expect them to do something with it.
All that said, it is the physical education classes where the differences are most salient. In China, it is common to have a teacher standing in front of students demonstrating a skill. The students then copy it.
In Papua New Guinea; however, teachers usually aren't involved in the activity itself. Like a coach of a football team, they design exercises that develop skills and subsequently tell students to do them. Students learn by doing, interacting with other students. The teacher is more of a facilitator than an instructor.
There are strengths and weaknesses of each approach. The Chinese approach encourages people to learn from others. This can cause problems when others say silly things, such as the myth that the Great Wall of China can be seen from the moon. In such circumstances, silly ideas can be taught and accepted without question by students.
The PNG approach encourages individuals to express their ideas even if they are in contradiction to established thought.
Teachers in China focus on the group as opposed to the individual. If one student is lagging, the class will stop and help the student and bring him as quickly as possible to the level of the rest of the group.
It is believed that every student has the ability to achieve in every subject, although some students will need to work harder than others to achieve the same results. Teachers and parents seem willing to help students who are not "naturals" at a subject to learn the tools that they need to succeed in that particular subject, even if it means working outside of school and on the weekends.
By contrast, in Papua New Guinea being called in front of a class and being critiqued by your teacher and peers could be downright damaging to a student's psyche. In PNG, education focuses on the individual, and maintaining students' self-esteem is considered critical.
Further, if a Papua New Guinea student is lagging, tend to attribute the failure to him simply not being good at the subject. Students in this situation will often move into a lower level class.
Because Chinese teachers and parents expect that all students have the ability to succeed in all subjects, students themselves tend to believe that they can succeed as well.
This is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Because Chinese teachers and parents expect more from their students, students succeed more.
There are not many freedoms in China due to the political system. When students write an essay, they can’t discuss or have opinions about political issues, otherwise, they will get bad grade. And worse, they might be punished, even go to jail.
In Papua New Guinea, students can write whatever they want to, as long as they can provide the evidence. They will get a high grade if they give a different and correct point of view.