Does Shanghai Really have the World’s Best School System? Part 3 of 3

According to World Education News & Reviews, in 2010, senior high schools [in China] accommodated 46.8 million students (23.4% of the  199.5 million students attending K to 9). But 48 percent of that 46.8 million students were in vocational senior high schools — not academic high schools, and only 15 year olds in academic high schools took the PISA test.

That leaves 21.2 million enrolled in the senior high school academic track designed to prep kids for college—that’s 10.6% of the total number of K to 12 students in China. This means that the fifteen-year-old students who take the international PISA in China are the elite of the elite attending China’s best public schools.


Students in China are taught from a very early age how to beat tests.

In addition, what country’s public schools have been used as a role model for China’s public school system?

Solutions Journal.com  reports, “What the Chinese found valuable in American education is the result of a decentralized, autonomous system that does not have standards, uses multiple criteria for judging the value of talents, and celebrates individual differences. Recognizing the negative consequences of ‘test-oriented education,’ China has launched a series of national reforms to cultivate more creative citizens. In 1999 China’s Central Committee sought to reform testing, abolish middle school exams, and encourage local provinces to experiment with their own examination regimens. This was followed by further decrees in 2001, encouraging more diverse curricula, and greater choice for students in subject matter—although any new material used must still ‘equip students with patriotism, collectivism, a love for socialism, and the Chinese cultural traditions, as well as moral-ethic values, democratic spirits with Chinese characteristics.’”

While China is moving closer to what the American public education system was like before 1999, the U.S. with NCLB, RTTT, and the Common Core and its high stakes tests has been moving away from the model China admired, and 13 years later, China’s 15 year old high school students in 10th grade in Shanghai earned 1st place in the 2012 international PISA test.

Return to Part 2 or start with Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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