Ren's Article







(Note: This paper was written by Honglian Ren as part of his Master’s Degree Program. He is an English teacher at Number One High school in Tanguu, People’s Republic of China. Since 1994, Delano has sent nine teachers to visit his school and experience education in mainland China.)
I was very lucky and honored to be chosen as an exchange teacher and had a wonderful experience living and teaching in the Delano School District between 1991 and 1992. The people were nice and friendly, especially my host families. Their kindness and hospitality helped me to get over my homesickness. After I returned home, Mr. and Mrs. Chuck Johnson visited me in 1994. At that time, a “sister relationship” was established between the two schools. The exchange has been a growing experience. While working with American colleagues, we often talked about differences between Chinese and American education. I’d like to share the following points with colleagues and friends.

In my personal opinion, the most striking difference between American and Chinese schools lies in educational concept. They have different objectives and purposes. In the classrooms in China, the emphasis is placed on passing knowledge to the students. There is not much discussion among students. The teacher lectures most of the period and the students listen, write, and memorize information and facts. The educational value is shown in group goals rather than individual goals. Most of the time, students are taught to behave well and work hard for the benefit of the class or school. From childhood, they are nurtured to respect parents, teachers, and authorities. They have a lot of homework to do. They have to work very hard in order to pass entrance exams which are very stressful.

On the other hand, in American schools, the importance is placed on individualism. The teachers try to make each student special. The students are taught ways to acquire knowledge. Students do not have to remember numerous facts. Instead, they work individually or in groups to discover answers. There is much discussion in the class. The students can ask questions while teachers are teaching; they can even disagree with teachers. They are not trained to be obedient and the teacher does not restrict their thinking. They can question authority when they have doubts. In contrast to the Chinese students, American students are more individualistic and creative.

In comparison with American students, the Chinese students are harder working, more disciplined, and attentive in class. They have more respect for teachers. They are expected to do well in exams and enter a key high school or university. They use the same textbooks, memorize the facts and information teachers “inject” in class. They have numerous assignments. They have little time for their personal interests. The Chinese Government has noticed that the educational system, to a certain extent, limits the students’ imagination, creativity and individuality. Authorities at all levels have been asked by the government to reduce the stress of students. This does not achieve the desirable results due to the National Entrance Examination. Everyone has to compete in order to succeed.

On the other hand, American students are under much less pressure. The relationship between teachers and students is less formal. Teachers can choose textbooks and they don’t have to teach the lessons one by one. They can choose the appropriate lessons fit for the students. Teachers do not lecture most of the period. The students can discuss in groups and give their own opinions of the topics. Usually teachers don’t supply answers to questions. Instead, they encourage the students to get the answers by themselves. During an English class, students can go to a computer lab to write their compositions or look up information in the Media Canter. An educational expert from Pennsylvania once visited an art class in a Chinese elementary school. That day, the students were drawing a rooster. He was very surprised to find the rooster pictures they drew so vivid and close to real life. Meanwhile, he also found that every one of them was doing the rooster, not something else. From this example, we can see that Chinese education pays more attention to training students to be a member of the group, but neglects individuality and creativity.

American education is also characterized by its flexibility and usefulness. Besides the major courses, they have selective courses and extra curriculum to raise the interest of the students. For extracurricular, they have band, choir, drama, gifted and talented programs, and many sports. In contrast, the Chinese students have to follow the textbooks very closely. Except for a few sports, they do not have many after school activities. Although some elective courses have been newly added, they are just “in form”. Everything is centered on passing the exams with a high score. Students do not want to disappoint their parents. In American schools, the educational system is flexible, because if students build up enough credits, they can get the diploma and graduate. If they do not want to go to a university, they can look for a job. In China, students have to work hard to pass the National Exams to enter a university. Then they are on their way towards success. Otherwise, they do not have a chance to find a good-paying job. Since China has such a large population, students have to compete to be successful.

Education is a cultural phenomenon. Different education reflects different cultural traditions. In my opinion, both have common points, differences, advantages, and disadvantages. The Chinese students are hard working, obedient, and show more respect for teachers. Meanwhile, American students are more creative, individualistic, and have more imagination. Whenever I exchange my views on education with my American friends in Delano, we share a common wish, that is, we would like to see a compromise between Chinese and American education. Maybe that is the best educational system.

With cultural exchanges between China and the States expanding, American education will exert more and more influence on Chinese education. In the same way, Chinese education will inevitably affect American education. In 1994, which was the first year of Mr. Johnson’s visit we had only one McDonalds in Beijing. Now we have four in our city (Tanguu). We also have Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut here. We are already Americanized in some ways, aren’t we?


Honglian Ren, a teacher from No. 1 Middle School in Tanggu, China, came to the Delano faculty during the 1991-92 school year as part of the American Field Service (AFS) student and teacher exchange program.

Mr. Ren explains significance of Chinese artifacts at a museum in Tanguu, China.

Mr. Ren and other Chinese teachers make a toast to Delano H.S. students in Tanggu, China, March, 2007