People tend to think that Westerners are more assertive and creative, while Easterners are more conservative and reserved. So what makes all these difference? I would suggest it is the result of the different education systems. Having studied under both foreign and local teachers, I discovered that their approaches to teaching are fundamentally different. In this essay, I would like to examine and evaluate these differences. This is vitally important as it influences our choices and responses in life beyond school. And will finally determine our values, the quality of our lives and the satisfaction we derive from life.
A. Teacher-centered and student-centered
I would say that the prime difference between the two education systems is that one uses teacher-centered classes, and the other uses student-centered classes. In the Eastern education system, the teacher is the only authority; his or her words are not to be questioned. Students are not expected to speak up in class or respond to the questions that the teacher asks. Therefore, most of the questions are rather rhetorical. Questions are brought up for the teachers to answer. Thus, there is no motivation for the students to be active. This leads to a very unusually phenomenon, the students sleeping in class. Students of the Western education system, on the contrary, participate more in class. They have class or group discussions and they are forced to express opinions,
which are valued. In this way, students also listen to other’s ideas, which make them not only learn from the teachers, but also their peers.
B. Memorizing and understanding
The way students learn individually (not as members of a class) also differs from East to West. For instance, Eastern education is mainly based on book learning and memorization. They focus on classics and exams. Teachers often have to rush through the textbooks to meet the deadline of every monthly examination. Hence, students learn from memorizing facts, which are often forgotten after a short period of time, rather than understanding. And the lack of understanding all the facts results in the need for cram schools.
However, sometimes students put too much dependence on cram schools and often exhaust themselves, which can easily pull down the efficiency of learning. I noticed that recently teachers tried to train us in the ability to analyze and organize information we receive, but exams put pressure on students to ignore this, since memorizing information is the key to winning points. Somehow the community has formed a rather queer concept that certificates and scores are believed to represent ability. In the end, all we are best at doing is scoring high in exams or getting a diploma. Even our attitude and behavior is graded by numbers. The truth is, however, that most of us show lack of efficiency in solving problems we are confronted, and oftentimes we find difficulties when it comes to organizing activities or our daily routine. We are so competitive but we’re still not in step with the more advanced countries.
If we take a look in the Western way, they have a comparatively relaxed pace of learning. This allows better and deeper understanding of the topic they are working on. They spend more time on class and group discussion in order to know how to speak up logically and learn to accept other people’s opinions. They are often given assignments in the format of a report or project and will have to do their own research and gradually develop their independence. Presentations are also expected to be given properly with a clear voice and information, good time-control and stable eye contact. The skill of taking notes directly from the teacher’s lecture replaces following lifeless textbooks. This is the education of training students to be provided with skills they will need in their further studies and future careers.
C. Conformity and originality
The Eastern education system puts a great deal of emphasis on conformity. There are tons of school rules to follow and students are expected to line up like troops when attending assembly. Rules like: “sneakers and socks have to be white or black”, “shirts need to be tucked in”, and “no makeup or nail polish is allowed” are common. I personally don’t think these issues have anything to do with one’s attitude.
All students are basically graded by scores they get in the exams. The disadvantage of this is that some students might study around the clock but still fail and this would terribly cut down the interest they have towards studies. The Eastern education system seems to be working on producing “perfect”, “zero-mistakes” students. Any action that’s out of the ordinary is regarded as some sort of rebellion and will be questioned or punished. Occupations like doctors and lawyers are regarded as decent jobs to do while being an artist or designer is not so respected by others since in our education system, only those who score low in exams attend vocational schools. This prevents those with special talents from developing into professionals.
Unlike the Eastern system, in the Western education system, mistakes are considered positive. There is no doubt that humans at least once in a while make mistakes, and for Westerners, these are simply steps towards learning and are perfect chances to mature. In contrast to the Eastern grading system, they grade students by assessment of their performance. This way, students who put lots of effort to their studies can be satisfied with the grades they get and will maintain the motivation to keep up the good work and those who don’t work hard also learn that lack of effort is not sufficient to earn a good outcome. Originality and extracurricular activities are highlighted and encouraged, activities like a donation contest, visiting an orphanage or building houses for the poor. Consequently, they produce more artists and designers that dominate the fashion trends and create a more concerned community.
D. Relationship between teachers and students
Traditionally, the relationship between teachers and students has always been tense between students and teachers in Eastern culture. Teachers are meant to be respected and sometimes students even have to bear teachers’ bad temper. No matter how familiar we are with a teacher, it is not easy for us to automatically talk to them about our concerns. Some don’t even speak freely with their peers.
Students under Western education generally are more willing to speak about their problems to their counselors and are more flexible about other people’s advice. This is also due to the fact that Westerners consider emotional problems as something normal and always try to be optimistic about them. Through lots of discussions and debates in class, teachers have the status of an assistant or guide instead of a director.
It should be clear from the preceding discussion that there are some definite differences between the two education systems. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Western education encourages people to pursue their true interests, producing a broad range of skills and areas of expertise. Eastern education, on the other hand, discourages the pursuit of learning that has no strictly practical purpose, such as visual and performing arts. Eastern education, however, is an efficient way of training people to perform tasks that require quick and precise thinking.
Confucius is known to be the greatest teacher ever. In schools, we are taught about all the famous lines that he said. Things like “The teacher should teach differently according to every student’s condition” are familiar to all of us, but do we see it inside our education? It’s very ironic that we have the greatest teacher ever but we produce “robot” students. Surely there are some wonderful teachers showing up now and then, but if the whole system doesn’t change, it would be difficult to just rely on this small portion of teachers.
Overall, I would say that the advantages of Western education outweigh its shortcomings. Western education produces people who are able to make choices more consistent with their own true interests. Therefore, they ultimately achieve more satisfying lives. This gives them the motivation to follow their interest with passion which drives them to become leaders in their chosen field. In the East, seniors often tell us to equip ourselves so that we will have the ability to help others after becoming an adult, but the West lets students participate in charity work since childhood or adolescence and this gradually becomes one of their habits. In actual fact, there is so much we can do even if we are only seventeen or eighteen.
In addition to individual consequences, the education system also has an impact at the social level. For example, the two education systems produce different values. Eastern education gives out the concept that working is the main purpose of life. While this creates some social stability, it also means that the spiritual life of each person is easy to impoverish. On the contrary, Westerners know better how to relish life and this world. I believe if we want our society to be more progressive and be in line with the most advanced countries, there is definitely a need to reform our education system.