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What’s Still Missing in American Education and How to Out-educate China?

10 May 2012 37,035 7 Comments

America has almost caught up with China, and actually in some areas surpassed it. Thanks to No Child Left Behind, America can now claim to have even more frequent high stakes standardized tests than China. It can also be proud to be more serious than China about the test results because it uses test scores to break up schools, fire school leaders, and publicly humiliate teachers, while China does not have the guts to do any of that. China only gives those schools and teachers with high test scoring students some extra money. America has also successfully reduced time on nonsense school activities such as music, arts, sports, science, social studies, lunch time, and field trips, something it has wanted to do since the 1950s when surpassing the former Soviet Union was the aspiration. And the silly Chinese are working hard to push those nonsense activities into schools.

Through the Common Core Standards Initiative, America will soon claim another major victory over China. It will have a national curriculum (the few unenlightened states should just get out of the Union since they don’t care about their children’s global competitiveness enough to adopt the Common Core). Better yet, a national test that test more often and the results count more than the Chinese. Perhaps it will even have a national syllabus and national text book so all American children will be studying the same thing at the same time regardless of their location. The only problem is time differences but that can be solved by having one time zone. After all, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Michigan are all American, why should they have their own times, why should their children go to school different times? Moreover, China is a big country that spans at least five time zones but it uses only Beijing Time as the standard time for all places. America will very likely surpass China in this area because again China has been working to push more local control of the curriculum.

But there are still a number of things America is not doing that may prevent it from surpassing China entirely. If America wants to truly beat China, it needs to out do China in the at least three areas: medical, spiritual, and technological.

Medical: Out-drug them

Over past few days, Chinese media and cyberspace have been taken over by a story that started with a few photos apparently taken by students using some kind of smart phone. The photos show a classroom full students hooked on IV tubes, a scene that may remind some readers of M*A*S*H. The students, sitting behind mountains of books, are studying while being fed with Amino Acid with IV. As it turned out, this is a classroom in one of the best schools in Hubei province and these high school seniors are preparing for their final exams. They are too busy to go to the clinic to receive their brain nutrition of performance enhancing treatment. So the school was thoughtful enough to bring the equipment to the classroom. For a mere 10 yuan (less than $2), a student can receive their dose to boost their test results.

The story made national headlines and arouse heated discussions primarily because of the shocking effect of graphics and modern social media and the fact that the drug was administered in a classroom. Using drugs by students to boost their test scores is itself not news at all in China, where it is very common among students preparing for big exams. There are all sorts of products that claim to improve memory and hence test scores on the market. These products are openly marketed on TV and print media, often using successful students as their spokesperson. Using drugs to boost test scores has a long history too. I remember buying one bottle of some kind of syrup in my last year of high school, which cost me a lot of money since I did not have much to begin with.

No one knows how useful these products are, but everyone (parents, teachers, and students) feels they need it. But according to an ad for a product named Kaolisheng or Testing Power God in English, 20-30 days of usage rapidly improves your memory, relaxes your brain and as a result your memory will be fast, accurate, and expanded and your grades will improve by leaps and bounds. And before you know it, you will have left your classmates in the dust. And by the way, this product is the result of American technology and mandated by the U.S. Academy of Sciences, according to the company’s website.

Sure, Americans know the power of performance enhancers: Popeye the Sailor and his spinach, Marion Jones the world champion in track and field and her steroids. And certainly Americans use medication for children with ADHD—about 5% of American children use prescription stimulants such as Ritalin, which is now being marketed in China as the “making your smart medicine.”

But for all American students to outperform their Chinese peers, we must learn from the Chinese and bring the amino acid, Ritalin, and steroids to every child to make sure No Child is Left Behind in doping and we can Race to the Top of steroids because if we want to out educate them, we must out-drug them.

Spiritual: Out-pray them

Drugs are not enough. To really get good test scores, the Chinese students and their parents also seek performance enhancement from all sorts of gods. They put up posters or statues of gods in their rooms, visit temples and monasteries, pray to their dead ancestors, and seek guidance from blind fortunetellers. Those who believe China does not have religious freedom are simply not informed: praying to any god is allowed as long as it is for improving test scores. Here is a story about this phenomenon (in Chinese).

This is definitely one area American can out do China but has not taken full advantage of. I have heard about using prayers to cure cancer in some churches, and I did find a request on the Prayer Chain Website:

I must get good marks in my 12th std examination & AIEEE………….. I must get 1135+ marks in 12th std and get a good college…… & also pray for all the 12th std students……..the results should come in favour of me…..please pray for me guys…please

But this is far from enough. America should amend its constitution to mandate praying for improving our children’s PISA scores in every classroom and church, at least once a week. Again we must out-pray the Chinese.

Technology: Out-innovate them

In an earlier post, I wrote about the sophistication of technology devices used to enhance academic performance or some might call them devices for cheating.

Many of these devices rival equipment used by James Bond and his colleagues. Since 2001, electronic devices such as earpieces, watches, pens, and pencil erasers have been modified as receivers. Cheaters use these devices to receive answers transmitted from powerful equipment hidden in places near the test sites. The answers are provided by individuals who make a huge profit in this operation (prices differ for different tests but RMB2,000 is often mentioned per subject per test). These individuals hire content experts to come up with the answers to test items, which may have been transmitted by test proctors who use mini-cameras hidden in glasses or clothes they wear. Various government agencies, including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Industry and Information, Ministry of Public Safety (Police), and Ministry of Finance, have been working together to develop anti-cheating technologies and measures. But they are always behind. There is always newer anti-anti-cheating technology being developed. Ironically, the race between cheating and anti-cheating may have helped China’s technology advancement.

In America, the land of innovations, technology has not been used nearly as much as it should for enhancing test results. Those teachers in Atlanta public schools were so out of date in terms of using cutting edge technology to boost their students test scores. They used erasers and pencils! Moreover, so far such test score performance enhancing behaviors have only been found in Atlanta, Washington DC, Houston, Los Angles, Boston, Baltimore, and a number of other places. American students’ test scores will surely go up if all teachers and students begin to use high tech devices to send answers around while taking the test. And this could be a great new industry that could take us out of the economic recession. Just imagine how much money can be made from the millions of student and teacher consumers in America who are dying to improve their test scores. Then of course, we will need companies to develop anti-cheating technology and monitor the tests. It’s a never-ending business, much more lucrative than textbooks or data-driven systems. More importantly, in the interest of the nation, we have to out-innovate China in order to out-educate it!

Note: This post was inspired by yet another big news article about how China’s education is great by the BBC. The article China: The World’s Clearest Country? by BBC education correspondent Sean Coughlan opens with:

China’s results in international education tests – which have never been published – are “remarkable”, says Andreas Schleicher, responsible for the highly-influential Pisa tests.


This post is for entertainment only. All advice, ideas, and suggestions contained in this post are not meant to be taken seriously. Any government agency, federal, state, or local, or individual wishing to implement any or all of these ideas do so at their own risk. I expressly disclaim liability, but would like to know if anyone actually does.

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  • Bracha Cohen said:

    Very interesting and thoughts provoking

  • Lisa Durff said:

    Reierate: Scores are not the ticket – innovation is the Golden Ticket.

  • Michael Maser said:

    IV to boost learning! It’s kind of messy. Pills are much safer.

    I appreciate the satire Yong. As a Canadian (innovative) educator, I can only hope that any thoughts of a national curriculum stays far, far away.

    – Michael Maser
    SelfDesign learning

    author: Learn Your Way!

  • Out of the Box said:

    The unintended consequence of the Chinese education system is that it induces people to believe that getting into (or graduating from) a prestigious college is the ultimate end goal in life. It indirectly implies that everything else in your life including your life after college is inconsequential by comparison. This is simply not true in a modern capitalist economy. Your employers, customers and competitors are constantly evaluating you (i.e. skills and value) against your cost or compensation. It’s constantly about what you have done lately and what you can do for me in the future. People are always trying to find either a comparable replacement for a lower cost or a better alternative for the same price. In such an environment, your credentials without other accompanying value become less valuable.

  • Debbie said:

    While I found this article entertaining, it, as other blogs such as the Onion, can be taken literally by some people who do not read it in its entirety and dismiss the contents and purpose of the organization, such as this Network for Public Education.

    Therefore, I believe that any such article needs to state at the BEGINNING that it is satire, so as to avoid having people shake their heads and ignore the good efforts of this organization.

  • Wonderful Satire By Yong Zhao | GFBrandenburg's Blog said:

    […] What’s Still Missing in American Education and How to Out-educate China? 10 MAY 2012 […]

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