China’s High Speed Rail

Kunming to Shanghai: All Aboard China’s High Speed Railway!

April 2016. High speed rail now connects remote Kunming with Shanghai and the rest of China’s 20,000 km of HSR network. Next for Kunming is a line to Lhasa, Tibet.  Then people from Chiang Mai, Thailand, will be able to fly to Kunming in 55 minutes and board a 450 km/hr train and glide across the countryside to Shanghai and Beijing. How civilized!

Social Security in China

Is there Social Security in China?

You bet! The average Chinese contributes a staggering 40 percent of her salary – 3 times the US rate in the USA and is 4 times Northern Europe’s – to mandatory Social Security. The Chinese savings, trillions of RMB, funds China’s huge infrastructure investments. The Chinese government makes infrastructure investments pay off by developing land around the projects and collecting rising taxes as the development attracts higher value jobs and housing. The profits go back into Social Security.

Chinese employees contribute 11 percent and businesses contribute 29.8 percent, which ranks #1 in the world. The Chinese are savers!

China Social Security Card

China Social Security Card

 [File photo of the social security card of China]

Currently, 12 local governments, including Shanghai, Guangdong, Tianjin, Gansu, Jiangxi, and Beijing, have released schedules to cut required contribution rates to social security funds, focusing mainly on occupational injury, unemployment, and birth insurance. Shanghai, Hangzhou and Xiamen, also plan to cut contribution rates to pension and medical insurance, the Beijing Times reported on March 28.

Generally speaking, a smaller social security burden will bring benefits to the real economy. Since China set up its pension insurance system, the burden on enterprises and individuals has increased as contribution rates to pension insurance have gotten higher. According to related data,  In a sluggish economic situation, high contribution rates increase production and operating costs, causing more and more businesses to cut jobs.

Obviously, it’s difficult for local governments to cut down contribution rates to social security funds, since China is currently facing significant pressure from a growing elderly population and large pension expenses. But the bold move will help to demonstrate local governments’ steadfast determination to reduce operating stress and provide support to the real economy.

Firstly, cutting down contribution rates to social security funds reduces the operating costs of enterprises, which benefits middle, small, and micro-sized businesses. According to a calculation by the Hangzhou Municipal Human Resource and Social Security Bureau, after their cuts, some 1 billion yuan (US$153.6 million) worth of medical insurance payments will be saved in downtown Hangzhou.

Secondly, in the currently sluggish economic situation, cutting down contribution rates to social security funds will optimize the resilience of businesses, helping them step out of difficulties.

Thirdly, cutting down contribution rates to social security funds would favor accumulation and increase effective investments, so as to expand production scale. It would help to leave businesses more capital to speed up transformations and upgrades optimize Chinese industrial structure and enhance economic stability.

However, in the current situation, the extent of local governments’ cuts to contribution rates could remain at a low level. The cut-downs so far announced mainly relate to occupational injury, birth, and unemployment insurance, but not on pension and medical insurance. Since these three kinds of insurance do not account for a large part of overall social security funds, the cut-downs cannot relieve much of the burden on businesses. And the actual cut-downs are also limited, for instance, Tianjin lowered the employer’s contribution rate to unemployment from 2 percent to 1 percent and the contribution rate to birth insurance from 0.8 percent to 0.5 percent. In Shanghai, the required contribution rate to pension insurance for businesses was dropped by 1 percent to 20 percent; required contribution rate towards medical insurance for businesses was also cut by 1 percent to 10 percent. This range of the cutting is too small to cause significant effects.

Therefore, local governments are expected to maximize cuts to contribution rates within the scope of guaranteeing the payment safety of the social security funds. By doing this, the Chinese real economy could have more capital to speed up development.

In addition, a dynamic social security payment mechanism should be set up to change the contribution rates in accordance with economic reality.

The writer is a researcher at China Academy of Regional Finance. Translated by Lin Liyao.

OBOR: China’s New Silk Road

OBOR: China’s New Silk Road

In Odyssey for Chinese, Greece Sells Its Fabled Port of Piraeus [Foreign Policy]
With the sale, China’s state-owned COSCO aims to turn a once-sleepy port into the “dragon’s head” of OBOR: China’s New Silk Road.

OBOR: China’s New Silk Road.

Beijing’s ambitions to build a modern-day “Silk Road” connecting China, Central Asia, and Europe took a big step forward Friday when Chinese state-owned shipping giant COSCO finally sealed a deal to purchase the Greek Port of Piraeus, south of Athens.

For COSCO and for Beijing, it’s a billion-dollar conclusion to a seven-year saga. COSCO, formally known as the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co., took over operations at one part of the Port of Piraeus in 2009, and had long wanted to take ownership of the whole port, one of the biggest in the Mediterranean. But the port’s privatization was put on hold for a year because Greece’s left-wing leadership bitterly opposed earlier plans to do so by the previous government. On Friday, COSCO agreed to acquire control of the port and to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to continue upgrading and modernizing Piraeus.

In classical Greece, the “long walls” connecting Athens to the Port of Piraeus were the city’s lifeline, protecting it from hostile armies and ensuring Athens’ regional supremacy. Today, Piraeus could again be a lifeline for Greece, helping attract billions in foreign investment and turning a backwater into a global hub. Read more on Foreign Policy.

Report: China Europe and the Maritime Silk Road Download

The aim of this report is to assess how the Chinese involvement in ports along the Asia-Europe maritime corridor – from the South China Sea to the Mediterranean Sea – is relevant for the European Union. The Chinese government is currently developing an ambitious programme of maritime infrastructure construction along the main Asia-Europe shipping route. China’s initiative for a so-called ’21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ is aimed at port development in South-East Asia, around the Indian Ocean and in the eastern Mediterranean region. The Chinese leadership publicly presented its initiative for a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in October 2013. Earlier that year China had already launched its Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, which is aimed at infrastructure cooperation in a zone that stretches from Xinjiang (the north-western part of China) to the Baltic Sea. The Chinese government uses the term ‘One Belt, One Road’ to refer to the combination of these two initiatives. Chinese investment in large infrastructure projects constitutes the basis of One Belt, One Road. These projects are financed, constructed, supplied and sometimes operated by Chinese firms that are either state-owned or that otherwise have close relations with the Chinese government.

China Silk Road Report

China Silk Road Report

The developments described in this report are significant for the European Union. First, China is gradually becoming more influential economically and diplomatically – and eventually geostrategically – in regions close to Europe. Stronger investment and trade relations between China and countries in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia are increasing China’s stake in regional affairs, as well as the need for these countries to maintain friendly relations with Beijing. For the time being, this process is hardly visible, since China is careful in such regions to keep a low profile in the military and security domain. Second, the Chinese government has an increased ability to influence which routes the trade between China and the EU flows. While this is not a matter of Beijing being able to switch between trade channels on an ad-hoc basis, the Chinese government has a growing leverage over how trajectories develop during the course of several years. The port of Piraeus is a good example:

China’s decision to develop this Greek port has been decisive in creating a new trade link between Central Europe and Asia via Greece and the Balkans. This, in turn, affects intra-EU relations, since it helps the Eastern European economies to move away from their peripheral role within the EU. At the same time, the Chinese infrastructure strategy provides an opportunity to redefine and deepen EU-China relations. Third, in the long term it is likely that transport and supply chain routes involving Asia and Africa will increasingly bypass Europe.

While China will strengthen its already central role in terms of logistics and transportation, Europe will at the same time lose much of the centrality that it long held in these areas. On the other hand, China’s engagement can help economic development in Europe’s neighbourhood, which contributes to stability and can help the EU’s own economic growth.

China’s new initiatives, as discussed in this report, will accelerate the growth of its influence in the maritime domain as well as in Asia, Africa and Europe more broadly. How this affects European interests depends in part on Europe’s response. A proactive approach to closely monitoring and working with China and local actors seems to be the best way to preserve a European role. Such engagement would also allow Europe to support and benefit from economic development in the sectors and regions affected by China’s infrastructure strategy. Download the full report here. 

China’s Big Technology Revolution

What Caused China’s Big Technology Revolution?

The article below about China’s big technology Revolution is a little wonky but hugely informative. Here’s why: the new Five Year Plan calls for jettisoning industries with low value-add and moving up the technological food chain. Astonishingly, China has begun exporting millions of low value jobs to ASEAN and Africa. They don’t want workers stuck in dead-end industries so they shut them down, disassemble and export the factories to poor countries! The guys who run China have balls as big as any rhinoceros. These are huge bets. Sometimes, entire industrial sectors – like footwear and plastic toys, which were China’s #1 employer – just get vaporized.

Chinese Technology

                                Chinese Technology

They don’t want workers stuck in crap jobs because they want to get their income distribution as good as Japan’s (a world leader in even-handed distribution of incomes, measured by the GINI coefficient) and the best way to do that is not to suppress the wealthy but to lift the fortunes of the poor: crime drops, spirits rise and the rich sleep with a clear conscience. It’s a win-win that the entire country’s technorati can help make happen.

Cooperation is how China’s economy maintains its momentum without going off the rails. Millions of them, separated by thousands of miles, learned to cooperate – to act as a coordinated unit – before Christ was born when they figured out how to prepare for and survive floods that originated thousands of miles away. Before there were any communication technologies we would recognize.

When this call to action came, everybody jettisons outdated ideas, practices and people and figures out how to cooperate cheaply and quickly with colleagues they’ll never meet. These reforms could double the productivity of China’s millions of engineers and researchers. The government is counting on it to contribute to productivity growth. Their government only announces a Plan after the program has been implemented, unlike Western governments.

Science association to get rid of bureaucracy

The China Association for Science and Technology, an association covering more than 70 million researchers, is starting a new round of systematic reform to overcome a bureaucracy that isolates the organization from the masses. The move comes after the General Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee issued a plan for deepening reforms in science and technology associations nationwide on Sunday. Science and technology associations in China should better serve science workers, and the national strategy of innovation-driven development, as well as the government and the general public through reforms, the document said.

The document called on those associations to build closer links with science workers and the general public, and also called for better management of societies and administrative organs under the associations. The plan proposes to recruit science and technology associations in major enterprises and universities as group members of the China Association for Science and Technology, and encouraged societies of related disciplines to form coalitions as a way of sharing information and resources among the members.

“Many services that should have been provided equally to grassroots researchers, such as academic exchanges and publication of academic papers, are confined to the private circle of the director of some member societies,” said Su Xiaojun, deputy director of the Service Center for Societies of the association.

“Although this phenomenon exists only in a minority of the member societies, it will affect the connection between researchers and the government. So we have to overcome this issue through the reform,” he said.

With 207 member societies covering the gamut of natural sciences, the association is the largest national nongovernmental organization of scientific and technological workers in China, which serves as a bridge between government and the science community.

“I hope that CAST will make full use of its member societies to lead China’s science community into the new frontier of innovation,” said Fu Yuwu, president of the Society of Automotive Engineers of China.

The society has established four technological alliances that include the whole industry chain of electric cars.

“From automobile manufacturer to information technology, Internet companies, metallurgical industry and composite material and carbon fiber producers, we have a unique strength in building a large platform that is impossible for other organizations,” Fu said.

Yu Xiaohu, general secretary of the China Ordnance Society, said CAST also has an advantage in providing consulting services.

“CAST has eight member societies that cover almost every aspect related to the country’s national defense system and have strong technical strength,” Yu said.

Yu said CAST should provide in-depth consultation to decision-makers, build a cooperation platform and enhance technology transfer in the process of civil-military integration.

As part of the recent Chinese government efforts to streamline administration and delegate power, CAST will also take over some government functions.

“The association will shoulder more responsibilities assessing scientific projects and national laboratories, certifying professional credentials, recommending candidates for national sci-tech awards and developing industry standards,” said the service center’s Su.

China’s FDI: Foreign Direct Investment

Why has Chinese outward foreign direct investment (COFDI) exponentially increased since 2015? Because

  1. China’s GDP is increasing exponentially:

The CIA World Factbook gives 2015 GDP figures as

  • United States: $17,970,000,000
  • European Union: $19,180,000,000.
  • China: $19,510,000,000,000,000.

2. GDP is a gross figure disguising the fact that, every year since 1978, China has retained more value of their gross product. It rose dramatically last year when China’s import bill dropped 40 percent as commodity prices collapsed, making 2015 hugely profitable for China. Inc. Now there are trillions of dollars looking for opportunities anywhere, including abroad. At home, China is flooded with new capital – a huge US$3T a year sinks into China’s deepening pool of capital. To get a sense of how awesome this cash aquifer is, read Adjusted savings: net national savings (current US$). The reason we barbarians are seeing Chinese cash is because our investment environment is less competitive (and more timid) than theirs at home. Today, in every first and second-tier city in China there are guys ready – even eager – to throw down a hundred million bucks for something promising. It’s boom time in China and we’re being under-informed about it.

3. China has nearly 600% of GDP in in corporate, government, and private savings. The savings far outweigh the debt. Remember, not all governments are irresponsible with debt: China, Russia and Norway are on the side of the angels. China only participates in the international debt market to gain a seat at the top table, whence they are implementing Bretton Woods II, a drama entitled Keynes’ Revenge: Bancor’s Ghost. China has no need of foreign debt. Theirs is minimal.

4. They’re moving relentlessly up the value chain in accordance with their five year plans. Every year more high-value Chinese products enter my life and, probably, yours. Huge Chinese buses, for example, one of those big-ticket items every nation dreams of exporting, are muscling aside Volvo, MAN, and Mercedes where I live in Thailand. And I just spotted my first piece of Chinese hospital gear (a snazzy desktop vital signs multi-tester) in an international hospital. Next year the top-of-the-line Cadillac we see on American roads will have been made in China. Talk about coals to Newcastle!

5. FDI is good foreign policy. As one Chinese diplomat observed, “After sending ambassadors, presidents, dance troupes, art shows all around the world we discovered that what countries really like is if you buy stuff from them”. Deep-pocketed Chinese are becoming better acquirers and better ambassadors – as Geely’s acquisition and resuscitation of Volvo demonstrated.

6. It’s an opportunity to launder money. Anyone who’s been involved with foreign subsidiaries will tell you that laundering and tax reduction through transfer pricing is endemic. Laundering and tax-reduction are probably responsible for 50 percent of foreign investments. Outside Beijing and Shanghai, most transactions in China are in cash. Think about that for a moment. Offshore investments are a great way to send those accumulated billions to the cleaner.

Shanghai’s Education Secret

What’s Shanghai’s educational secret? The PISA international assessment focuses on students’ ability to apply their knowledge and skills to real-life challenges. Shanghai students topped all 65 countries and economies in all 3 categories in the 2009 PISA tests. More importantly, in reading, mathematics and science Shanghai had the world’s highest percentage (76%) of ‘resilient students’ – children from the bottom socioeconomic quarter who score in the top quarter among students from all countries with similar socioeconomic backgrounds. In subsequent years Shanghai drew even further ahead.

Shanghai School

Shanghai School

In Summerhill, one of the most important educational books ever written, A.S. Neill recounted what wonders education could perform for a few privileged children. In her new book, Learning from Shanghai, Charlene Tan shows and explains what wonders can be performed in conventional  classrooms of 50-60 children, even for disadvantaged children. Shanghai’s educational wonders, it turns out, are almost beyond the wildest dreams of Western parents and educators. How did Shanghai’s giant (pop. 26 million, 1.3 million students, 90,000 teachers, 764 primary and 754 secondary schools) beat the entire world by a huge margin? What’s Shanghai’s education secret? Professor Tan breaks it down with questions like

Learning from Shanghai

Learning from Shanghai

    1. How did Shanghai create the world’s best best school system in 2009?
    2. How did they pull further ahead in 2015?
    3. Why are they dropping PISA testing now?
    4. What they’re planning to do next? Learning from Shanghai[/caption

When she visited Shanghai Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach for America, was curious, too:

A couple of decades ago, Shanghai had a school system that was plagued by the same problems we’re facing here in the USA. There were significant disparities between the achievement levels of native children and the children of migrant families, and overall educational levels were low. Today, the best international measures we have show that Shanghai has the highest levels of educational excellence and equity in the world—to the point where their 15 year olds are now on average 3 grade levels ahead of kids in Massachusetts, our highest performing state.  Imagine that. What could be more important than getting ourselves to Shanghai and finding out how they’ve done this?

There are a number of factors to account for Shanghai’s educational success, but one key factor is the school leaders. The Shanghai educators I’ve met are all well-versed in international affairs, global in their outlook, IT savvy and even ‘Westernised’ compared to their counterparts in other parts of China. But beneath all these are deeply ingrained sociocultural values, beliefs and logics that shape their behaviours and influence their school leadership styles. And it’s this curious mix of tradition and modernity, a synthesis of East and West, that characterises school leadership, teaching and learning in Shanghai.  It is a story that is waiting to be told.. Read more…



SHANGHAI PRINCIPALS: ‘There are no students who cannot be taught well’ 

Charlene Tan dug deeper and found that school leadership is only one ingredient in Shanghai’s recipe for success: I arrived at the school in the principal’s car. The principal had sent his chauffeur to pick me up from East China Normal University, where I had been staying. Most Shanghai principals are provided with a car and a personal chauffeur…

…the principal continued, ‘In China, we have this saying, “There are no students who cannot be taught well, only teachers who cannot teach well.” [meiyou jiaobuhao de xuesheng, zhiyou jiaobuhao de laoshi]. So if you’ve a wholehearted spirit, you’ll teach well.’…

…A public lesson is a lesson conducted by a teacher that is observed and critiqued by others. The ‘others’ could be teachers from the same school, teachers from other schools, educational experts, parents and members of the public. It can be offered at the school level, district level or municipal level and is a requirement for teacher professional development and teacher appraisal in Shanghai. Such a lesson requires a lot of preparation and can be stressful for teachers. The principal said: ‘For public lessons, we’ve already created a structural culture. So if you don’t want to conduct a public lesson, there’s an invisible hand to direct you, to make you do it. Otherwise, you cannot be promoted to the next grade, your assessment score at the mid-year appraisal will not be high’.

He went on to elaborate how his school has launched new expanded and research courses  and innovative teaching approaches that emphasize student-centred learning. These include experiential learning where students apply scientific principles to test the quality of food they purchase from the supermarkets and a teaching approach that underscores student group discussions and oral presentations. It is evident that the principal has leveraged the school’s autonomy to design interesting courses and teaching approaches that are tailored for the school’s needs. At the same time, he is careful to ensure that his school initiatives adhere to the spirit and requirements of the curriculum reform.

Shanghai Teachers: ‘Education Is Filling a Bucket and Lighting a Fire’

Professor Tan discovered, to the delight of teachers everywhere, that Shanghai teachers spend only 15 hours a week in classroom instruction. The rest of the time they’re rehearsing ways to get their points across:

Chinese teachers, like master chess players, are known for putting in a lot of thought and preparation in their teaching and training their students to make the ‘right moves’ in exams. (I shall return to and elaborate on the chess analogy later.) This attitude is expressed in a local proverb that ‘to give a student a cup of water, a teacher should have a bucket of water’ [yaogei xuesheng yibeishui, jiaoshi ziji yinggai you yitongshui]. As explained by a Chinese academic: ‘It means a teacher should be familiar with not only the teaching materials, but also the wider background knowledge relevant to the teaching materials’ (Chen, 2009 , p. 97). It is noteworthy that the Chinese word for ‘teacher’ is ‘jiaoshi’ which comprises two characters: ‘jiao’ which means ‘teach’ and ‘shi’ which means ‘master’ or ‘expert’. Therefore, the term ‘jiaoshi’ underscores the cultural belief that a teacher should not just be an instructor but a ‘teaching master’ or ‘teaching expert’. To quench the student’s thirst, a teacher should have many, many cups of water, or simply put, have a bucket of water.

The emphasis on content mastery explains why the Chinese syllabi tend to be pitched at a higher level of difficulty compared to other countries. Commenting on Shanghai’s PISA achievement, a school principal said: ‘What’s tested in PISA is what the students have already learnt; in China, the level of content difficulty is higher than in many other countries of the same grade’. This point was repeated by other principals and teachers who told me of their personal observations when they visited schools in Anglophone countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. For example, a vice-principal said: Last year, I went to Germany and looked at their mathematics textbook for senior secondary school year 1. Much of the content in the textbook is what we’ve learnt in junior secondary year 2. This difference is relevant in explaining our PISA achievement. Our students find the PISA questions easy as they are already familiar with the concepts.

Exams are not just important for students; they are essential to the teachers too because, as one teacher put it, ‘the exam scores re fl ect how good your teaching is’. High exam scores are translated into greater rewards for the teacher as they validate his or her ability to teach well. The priority placed on exam scores entails that a mastery of subject knowledge, repeated practice and exam techniques remain important to the students. Hence, teachers need to continue to give their students cups and cups of water so that they have a ready supply of water with which to face the desert of exams without dying of thirst. A teacher said: In Shanghai, it’s about earning a piece of paper. ‘One exam to determine the rest of your life’ [yikao dingzhongshen]. You’ll move up if you score well, you’ll move down if you don’t. That’s what’s happening. In China the greatest source of pressure comes from the desire to gain employment. Ultimately we still need to return to academic subjects, to exam scores. You can have all kinds of activities for the students to have fun in but ultimately it’s the exam that matters.



3. Shanghai Parents: Tiger Mothers, Dragon Children

‘What do you think are the main factors that contributed towards Shanghai’s success in PISA?’ This was a question I asked principals and teachers in every school I visited in Shanghai. Invariably, the respondents would mention parents. ‘Parents devote money, time and energy to their child’s education’, said a vice-principal. ‘As long as the child is willing to learn, more than 95% of parents are willing to spend the money, even if 70% of family expenses go to the child’s learning’, he added. A 2004 survey points out that the main purpose for saving in Chinese households is to pay for their children’s education (Mok, Wong & Zhang, 2009 , p. 508). Explaining the fi erce competition in Shanghai, a teacher who has taught for over two decades in Shanghai said: In Shanghai, our thinking is that the kind of senior secondary school you attend will determine the kind of university you’ll go to. This is reality. The kind of junior secondary school will determine the kind of senior secondary school, just like the kind of primary school you go to will determine the kind of junior secondary school you eventually attend. So the competition starts with kindergarten. An even earlier competition begins from the time the child is born. And even earlier is prenatal education [taijiao].

A principal pointed out that many Chinese parents missed the opportunity to receive higher education due to historical and social reasons. Hence they try all means to fulfil their desires vicariously through their children. ‘The parents have put all their hopes on their child and devote all their energies to the child. The child’s learning, school promotion, choice of career, all determine the fate of the entire family’, he added. A senior teacher who has taught for 30 years in the rural school explained: Every week, for two hours, teachers teaching the same subject will come together to discuss, share good ideas, their problems. This allows the teachers to prepare lessons in a more in-depth manner. … The teacher training college in the county will also bring the teachers together to learn and exchange ideas. For example, our school currently focuses on the theme on ‘creating effective lessons’, so we organise teacher essay competitions, lesson plan competitions, classroom activities, and so on.

There’s much, much more in this treasure-trove of a book (which you can borrow free for a week from Amazon) as this abbreviated table of contents shows:

  1.  The Beginning: Shanghai, PISA and Globalisation.
  2. A Conversation with a Shanghai Principal.
  3. The Chinese Teacher as a Chess Master
  4. ‘Education Is Filling a Bucket and Lighting a Fire’: The Shanghai Teacher
  5. Tiger Mothers, Dragon Children
  6.  ‘Chinese-Style’ Education for All.
  7.  ‘To Develop Every Student’: Towards Quality-Oriented Education
  8. Balancing Decentralisation with Centralisation
  9. Autonomy and Accountability: The School Appraisal System
  10. Testing Times: Exams as Means of Central Control
  11. Examining the Exam Papers.
  12. Taking Teacher Professional Development Seriously
  13. Towards Innovation and Application: Curriculum Changes in Shanghai Schools
  14. From Teacher Talk to Student Talk: Dialogue-Style Teaching.
  15. The ‘Post-Tea House Teaching’ Approach
  16. Critical Thinking: The Chinese Way
  17. Kung Fu Panda: Teacher Mentoring and Collaboration
  18. Developing (f)or Appraising: School-Based Teacher Training
  19. The End: Learning ABC from Shanghai

Finally, Part III, The Practice, the meat of the book for educators, gives real-life examples of lesson planning, delivery styles, critical thinking, evaluation, teacher mentoring and collaboration, school-based teacher training and more.

Press Comments on Shanghai’s Educational Success:

Tom Friedman, The New York Times. SHANGHAI — We’re visiting some of the highest- and lowest-performing schools in China to try to uncover The Secret — how is it that Shanghai’s public secondary schools topped the world charts in the 2009 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exams that measure the ability of 15-year-olds in 65 countries to apply what they’ve learned in math, science and reading. After visiting Shanghai’s Qiangwei Primary School, with 754 students — grades one through five — and 59 teachers, I think I found The Secret: There is no secret.  When you sit in on a class here and meet with the principal and teachers, what you find is a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools but that are difficult to pull off consistently across an entire school system. These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children’s learning, an insistence by the school’s leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers. – 

Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD’s Secretary General:  Short of arguments about methodology, some people turn to dismissing Shanghai’s strong performance by saying that Shanghai’s students are only good on the kind of tasks that are easy to teach and easy to test, and that those things are losing in relevance because they are also the kind of things that are easy to digitise, automate and outsource. But while the latter is true, the former is not. Consider this: Only 2% of American 15-year-olds and 3% of European ones reach the highest level of math performance in PISA, demonstrating that they can conceptualise, generalise and use math based on their investigations and apply their knowledge in novel contexts. In Shanghai it is over 30%. Educators in Shanghai have simply understood that the world economy will pay an ever-rising premium on excellence and no longer value people for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know. 

Memorization in Schools. OECD

Memorization in Schools. OECD

Memorization in Schools[/caption]

A Shanghai Essay Writing Tests:

  1. A young monk joined a monastery and was curious about many things. It is autumn and many red leaves have filled the compound of the Buddhist temple. The young monk asked his master: ‘The red leaves are really beautiful, why must they fall off the tree?’ Master smiled and said: ‘Because winter is coming, the tree is unable to support so many leaves, and has to shed them. This is not giving up, but letting go!’ Based on the information above, formulate your own essay title and write an essay in not less than 800 words. This essay question is for 17-18 year-old students. It is taken from a district exam paper for senior secondary students in 2011and is typical of exam questions in Shanghai today. They are part of the Shanghai authorities’ endeavours to move away from an exam-oriented education characterised by memorisation and repeated practice of past exam questions to quality-oriented education where students are equipped with the ability to think reflectively and independently.
  2. Based on the information below, adopt a perspective, formulate your own essay title and write an essay in not less than 800 words. ‘Two old men are playing a game of chess in a park. They play it very slowly, making the observers feel impatient. An old man commented humorously: ‘You are not aware of this, but chess should be played slowly. Playing it slowly allows you to experience deeply the infinite changes and joy of chess; playing it fast gives us a murderous atmosphere, not like chess played among friends. Furthermore, once you place a piece on the chess board, the game begins to head towards death. If we rush through it, the chess board will be filled up fast, the chess will be dead. Good chess should be played slowly!’. Such a profound speech made the observers reflect deeply.


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