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"Jintan's Purple Cow" - No. 2: The Making of a More Creative Chinese Student
By Juan Cervantes
Mar 21, 2012 - 9:09:49 AM

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"The Making of a More Creative Chinese Student"

At a friend's house I saw her young son and another boy put plastic chairs on their backs and pretend they were turtles- nothing special for imaginative children. However, those same children after a few years in the Chinese educational system would see their creativity suffer. Chinese education is well known to be heavy on facts and memorization for a high score on the Gao Kao college entrance exam, and other tests in between. PhsyOrg.com, an on-line scientific journal, writes that 86% of Chinese students prefer careers in science and math because of the similarity to their rigid system of schooling. In contrast, 60% of students in the United States prefer an education relating more to the "discussion of ideas and possibilities." While the current education system does not mean that all Chinese will be devoid of creativity, how many more would have greater innovation if they did not go through it?

Mr. Xu
Xu Guixiang, a teacher trainer in Jiangsu, has thought about how to extract more creativity from students: "What concerns the education sector of China is to allow students to be creators and innovators in all walks of life." One area that he specifically points to is the entertainment industry of the United States and Japan. "Why can't China have its famous animation or movie studios that make films people want to see worldwide," he says. Once in a while Chinese films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are great hits around the world. Every year in Chinese theaters Hollywood movies come through and make money to repeat the process the next year. Xu knows that China is falling behind the rest of the world in creativity.

However, for the past decade China has been well represented in its international patent applications as they have increased at a substantial rate. Sociologist Doctor Cong Cao states that companies like Huawei Technologies ranked first in international patents with 1,737 in 2008. He also cites a Thompson Reuters Scientific piece, that when written, had predicted that by 2010 China would pass Japan and in 2011 the United States in patent applications.

In one article debunking "Five Myths on Business in China," the Wall Street Journal does not agree that the Chinese are great imitators but are innovators citing the rising number of PhD's in the realm of technology. Most of these new patents are for improving present day technologies though. China is not known today for great discoveries or innovations. Xu wants his future students to come up with new ideas that no one has thought of before. "My dream is for modern China to produce its own Steve Jobs and Steven Spielbergs at the same time," he states.

As a teacher trainer, he has visited countries such as Canada has seen their methods of education. One glaring difference between Canada and China is how non-science and math classrooms are run like business meetings where any student can give an opinion. In China, the teachers' opinion is the most important and the students listen. During his staff trainings, he suggests new methods for teachers to use such as Differentiated Instruction that takes into the account that students learn in different ways through their senses and personalities. When possible, he also invites foreign teachers to give seminars to primary and junior middle school teachers.

However, Xu is also conscious that the teachers themselves are constrained for they have to teach their subjects aimed at the exams. As an interim step, he also advocates that teachers be more creative in assigning homework. While students can be prepared for their tests, they can also think about more creative ways to find the answers. "Until China introduces more reforms and integrates more innovative teaching styles, I am afraid Chinese teachers can only change their teaching styles a bit as long as the current test-based system exists." He knows that many teachers read educational books from overseas and are aware of modern teaching techniques.

Even once out of school, Chinese employees face obstacles to their creativity as Linda Tischler on Fast Company Magazine's website writes. Even those students who have a creative mind are hampered by a deep in-grained cultural notion of obeying one's superiors in order to avoid conflict. Innovators and inventors by nature are those whose ideas and personalities may not conform to the standard way of thinking. A person only has to think about Galileo and a sun centered solar system and his conflict with the Catholic Church. Tischler further comments that when an original idea does come out of a company or organization, everyone in the hierarchy gets some of the credit. A person with new ideas might not present them for they would not receive the credit. She also states that in other countries a creative person can leave a company and start their own, something not easily done in China where loyalty to a group or company is more important than the individual.

Mr. Xu during teacher training in Canada

The February 2011 issue of China Today concentrated on a concept called "Creative Capital." The article outlined China's past decade long growth in its creative industries. The heads of these companies want to add to the "Made in China" exports with a new line of "Created-in-China." One example is the novel Du La La that as a privately published book sold 430,000 copies and made 340 million RMB of worth of licensing revenue. Other examples are the computer industry of Haidian District said to be China's "Silicon Valley" along with so called Creative Industry Zones around Beijing like Jiukeshu Modern Music Zone.

At the moment Du La La is no Harry Potter nor is Jiukeshu Modern Music Zone a rival to Hollywood, but it is a start.

Juan Cervantes


Mr Cervante's first series of stories was titled: 'Postcards from China' and written under the name "T. D. Polo-Sanchez".


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