Living in Two Cultures: Educational Spotlight
Lea Xu and Louie Yi, co-owners of Lotus Travel, moved to Guangzhou, China in 2008 and currently live there during the academic school year, which runs from September to July. This move was motivated by a desire for their children to experience and really “know” Chinese culture and language and be connected to it in a meaningful way. As most Asian families do, Lea and Louie consider education the most important key to their children’s future and are very invested in their children’s success educationally. The move to Asia was partially motivated by the desire to provide a more demanding educational experience for their children.
This is an interview excerpt from a discussion between Lea Xu, co-owner of Lotus Travel and Iris Culp, Heritage Tour Programs Director for Lotus Travel. The purpose of this interview was to focus on comparing and contrasting two different educational experiences in China and America.
Iris: You and I have talked previously that one aspect of your family’s desire to return to China was to provide your children the type of education that will prepare them to compete in the world in which they will live. Can you tell me more about that?
Lea: Yes, I can. All three of my children were born in the US. Because of that they are very ‘Americanized” in much of their day to day life. We moved to China in January 2008, when my oldest, Selena, was five, Liane was three and Jasmine was one.
Education is valued in both countries, but America and China approach it somewhat differently. In America, my perception is that the educational experience is approached in a “casual” manner. There is a lot of emphasis on “learning through play’ in the early years of school. While I understand that children will learn some through play, to me it seems this is not the best approach to an academic education. I enrolled my girls into a good quality, highly recommended (and somewhat expensive) school. I found that learning was done mostly as non-structured play. It seemed that expectations of the children were low and the teachers didn’t seem to value their jobs greatly or take the responsibility to each child’s learning experience. And whether it was a little or large concern, the approach to school concerns seemed too casual. There was a lack of communication between parents and teachers or administrators on a routine basis. As parents, Louie and I highly value education for our children, and it didn’t seem the teacher’s or leader’s concern about quality education was very high. Competition is not encouraged in US schools. A child’s self-esteem is more important and the bar was set low in order to make everyone feel good about themselves.
In contrast, in China, our girls are in a school which has high expectations for their students. The teachers and even administrators are quite involved and knowledgeable about what is taking place in our children’s daily life. As a parent, I receive a weekly feedback sheet that tells me what each of my girls is learning with detailed comments. It tells where the student is doing well and where she may be struggling. The weekly feedback sheet gives parents a chance to provide communication back to the teachers as well and I try to complete it with a lot of comments every week. It will include comments on listening habits, eating, how they get along with siblings, and more. I use it as a communication tool and to let teachers know more about our children. In America, feedback did not come very often. Most of the time, it was not specific or relevant to each child -- it could have applied to most of the students, as the comments were vague and general. It wasn’t enough feedback to help us understand or assist our understanding of what the kids were learning, or if there was something we could do to help them learn more or do better in a particular area.
In addition to a higher level of communication, the teachers seem to expect more from students and I think that is a key to motivating students. There is some research that talks about how expectations influence how well a child does and I do believe that is a part of differences I see between the two countries and our experience in them. In America, my kindergartner was learning “tens” in math. Now, in China, the girls are working on the hundreds concepts and numbers. Also, I think another key difference here is that Chinese teachers don’t seem to place as much importance on whether the child is having fun while doing their task. In China it is expected that you will learn certain information, even if it is not necessarily fun. This may be overstating it just a bit, but the concept is there. Also, in China it seems that there is more emphasis placed on them to learn specific knowledge and not just learning through play. For example, my oldest has homework at least 3 days per week for about 20-30 minutes per night and on the weekend she has homework which is a little heavier. She also works daily on learning and writing about 10-15 Chinese characters as part of her language lessons. She can write some difficult characters which have over 10 strokes. So, that is something that just requires quite a bit of repetition and study and isn’t very easy or fun to do. We are pleased with how their language skills are progressing and I am glad she is learning the written Chinese characters. It is the reason we moved to China –to learn both reading and writing Chinese besides speaking.
Iris: Can you tell me more about the stronger communication you feel you receive from the school?