China is preparing to host its biggest diplomatic, economic and political event of the year, the OBOR Summit. A modern-day manifestation of the ancient Silk Road, One Belt, One Road (OBOR) has become one of the major policy initiatives led by President Xi Jinping since 2013.
Over the past few years, President Xi and his team have continued to promote OBOR as a significant global convergence of political and economic interests. Foreign Minister Wang Yi echoes this sentiment, declaring OBOR to be “the most important public good China has given to the world, first proposed by China but for all countries to enjoy.”
The massive potential for infrastructure and other types of investments through various projects has caused many to compare OBOR to a golden age in Chinese history–when Chinese merchants played a vital role in bridging economic activities linking Asia, Africa, and Europe.
With its immense potentials expected to reshape a large part of the world economy, many corporate executives, plant managers, and shareholders across China are already scrambling to get ready for OBOR.
However, Chinese families could also gain much by preparing themselves for the event.That is, “Are you OBOR-ready?” is a real question all Chinese parents should be asking their children at dinner tables across the country as they are preparing for college and entering the job market soon thereafter.
In this contemporary revival of the ancient Silk Road, cranes and forklifts cannot be the only improvements upon caravans and camels used in the past. Rather, there is a crucial obligation to complement OBOR’s strategic economic vision with a commitment to essential skills needed through a world-class education.
To begin realizing its real potential, China needs to keep one eye on development via capital resources and another eye intently focused on training its future workforce–which must be achieved through investment in soft infrastructure, education and re-training. How can China best harness the power of our human capital? While the economic center of gravity is shifting more and more towards the East, the West remains the educational center of gravity–with the United States continuing to dominate in this sector.
Furthermore, it will take China several decades to build a fleet of truly world class universities. Thus, to fully engage with OBOR’s immense potential means creating a synergy between the Chinese economic vision present in this initiative and the already-well-established educational hub in the United States.
Currently, there exists a widening gap between China’s domestic educational system and its vision for economic growth, with the former lagging far behind the latter. If China wishes to respond promptly to this problem, in the connected world, it must work towards filling this gap quickly by outsourcing rather than taking the slower rebuilding approach. By taking the cross-cultural but more vital cross-system, worldview approach towards cultivating educational potential, China will also inadvertently cause the talent pool to gravitate towards the economic success started by OBOR across Asia, Europe, and Africa. In this sense, US education can be the underlying engine driving OBOR’s successful implementation throughout China and beyond.
While China has embarked upon economic liberalization quite quickly, it has yet to advance at the same rate in the field of higher education. However, improving in both areas has proven to be equally important for the long-term economic stability and sustainability of the country. In a connected world, gaining a US-based education is not just about the university degree.
Rather, it provides the Chinese workforce with just the right formula of training and competitive edge in the global economy. Therefore, being OBOR-ready has far reaching implications.
As the summit gets underway, there are over 900 deals, worth over $980 billion, waiting to be made. These deals have an estimated $4 trillion in cumulative investment across participating countries throughout the next several years. In this new OBOR-era world, the US offers the soft infrastructure; educational support and technology, China provides the hard infrastructure and export markets, and Europe sends aid and governance advisers. And as corporate supply chains work to facilitate the smooth flow between all of these connections, it would appear that this is the closest geopolitics has come to all the right stars aligning at the same time.
As one ancient Chinese wisely said, “If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. But If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.” From the dinner table to the boardroom, stakeholders and major players from all regions and sectors are eager to tap into the enormous potential derived from the human capital at OBOR.
A combination of talent, skills and the right vision can help forge such educational potential into long-term economic opportunity and growth that will benefit China and the world. To enjoy the benefits of the OBOR-era world, we must first build it through the Chinese hard infrastructure and the American higher education infrastructure. The OBOR-era world’s destiny hangs in the balance.
By: Andrew Hang Chen & Roozbeh Aliabadi
Chief Learning Officer of WholeRen Group
Andrew Hang Chen is an educator and advisor on international education. He is the co-founder and CEO of WholeRen Group – an education consultancy group based in the US and China. www.wholeren.com
Strategic Advisor of WholeRen Group
Roozbeh Aliabadi is an advisor on geopolitical and geoeconomic risks. He serves as the strategic advisor for WholeRen Group.
A GENERATION ON “STERIODS”
The Chinese Educational Trajectory: a generation dependent on short term performance enhancement
By Andrew H. Chen
Chief Learning Officer of WholeRen Group
Yixuan Wan is a third grader in Beijing’s public school system. Yet the majority of his weeknights, weekends and holidays are spent attending private classes–all enhancing the same public school curriculum.
Like Yixuan, most Chinese students rarely escape from the strict regimen of these after school classes. In fact, a family living in the large Chinese cities (e.g. Beijing or Shanghai) typically spends about $3,000 per year on each of their children aged 3-18 years old. In smaller cities, families generally spend over $1,000 per child. Thus, when considering China’s population of 1.4 billion, it becomes clear that total spending on private classes and tutoring is quite high–with some estimates placing the private K-12 education industry’s value at $120 billion.
What exactly do the students study in these private courses? For the most part, it is the same curriculum studied during school hours. Yet students double down on Math, Chinese and English classes after school hours just to stay ahead of their peers. In doing so, they are convinced that they will improve their future educational prospects. College entrance is dependent upon getting into high school. Unlike the United States, high school entrance is not a guarantee. In fact, 50-60% of students in cities like Nanjing and Chengdu are not able to get into high school at all.
Chinese students options are limited in terms of choosing a pathway to higher education. Beginning at age three, students are pressured into getting into a good daycare which will set them up on the path to securing places at the best elementary, middle and high schools, then colleges. There are simply not enough seats at Chinese high schools and colleges, or not enough seats at the “good” schools. So, if a student cannot get into public high school, she will generally choose a technical school. Since there is not much they can do about opening up available seats at the best educational institutions, families focus upon improving their children’s performance on entrance exams–mainly via after school private tutoring.
On the other hand, public schools are barred from offering their own academic enrichment in the form of after school classes. The government mandates that all schools release their students by 3:30 pm. Furthermore, there are limits placed upon the difficulty levels of college and high school entrance exams. Despite these measures aimed at protecting students, schools and teachers are constantly evaluated by how well their students do in these same standardized tests. These institutions’ reputations are built upon their ability to boast about their high quality instructors and their student body’s test scores.
Due to these conflicting pressures, private K-12 education companies are extremely popular because they promote one thing above all–high test scores that can beat out the competition. Most often, teachers push their students to attend these private classes. Combined with pressure from teachers and the companies’ aggressive marketing campaigns, parents eagerly enroll their children into the classes that suddenly become indispensable to their futures.
Student performance is also matter of family honor in China. There is no choice but to get on board with private classes and working towards getting the highest test scores possible. In fact, if a student starts to slide or fall below the average at school, he will be singled out. Since a bad student is seen as a direct reflection of poor teaching, teachers intervene quickly, calling in families to address the student’s poor school performance. Once the family gets involved, a student must improve his results or alternatively, face the burden of having dishonored his family with poor performance and disobedience.
When faced between success and dishonor, students and families quickly turn to the promising “steroids approach” of private education companies, hoping to boost scores as soon as possible. Such short-term performance enhancement is the exact business of the K-12 after school education industry. Driven by competitive and commercial interests, these companies have established sophisticated techniques to improve test results. For example, a student is instructed to follow a curriculum one month ahead of her regular public school schedule–which helps her gain a competitive advantage, thereby inflating test scores. Many of these third party service providers are doing increasingly well in international markets, with one such provider TAL Education valued at $9.3 billion on the New York Stock Exchange.
So, why does this all matter to US educators? It comes down to assessing reality and reevaluating opportunities. As F-1 Chinese students have steadily been the largest US international student group for the past six years, it becomes imperative that US colleges and high schools understand their incoming students’ past and present motivations. Furthermore, understanding this reality can open up new opportunities for US community colleges and other university pathway programs. Not requiring SAT or high TOEFL scores, community colleges can serve as great starting points for many Chinese students who seek an alternate pathway towards four-year universities.
Ultimately, the question becomes whether or not Chinese families will have an open-minded attitude towards unranked educational institutions like community colleges. With a deeper understanding of these students’ life situations, perhaps US educators can help facilitate a new shift away from short term, steroid-like dependency towards a more sustainable approach to higher education.
Copyrights © 2017 WholeRen Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved
Chief Learning Officer of WholeRen Group
Andrew is an educator and advisor on International education. He is the co-founder and CEO of WholeRen Group. He has been interviewed and quoted by New York Times, VOA, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Business Insider, The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Atlantic, The Pie News, Chinadaily, CCTV and other mainstream media in both China and US.
WholeRen’s maxim, “Bringing Two Great Nations Together, One Student at a Time”, captures the essence of its mission to serve the educational needs and aspirations of families and educators in the USA and China while enhancing those experiences and involving highly reputed educational organizations and individuals. This mission is predicated on meeting the needs of the individual student by utilizing the best aspects of Eastern and Western educational precepts, and making the success of the learner the highest priority.
For more information, visit www.wholeren.com
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