Chinese Doctoral Students at TC Discuss Education Reform
As part of its recent celebration of International Education Week, Teachers College of Columbia University (TC) hosted presentations by visiting doctoral students from China who spoke about education reform in their rapidly developing country and what they can learn from the United States. Teachers College and China have had a long and fruitful relationship. The school’s first student from China to receive a PhD (1914), Dr. Kuo Ping-wen, became president of a college in his homeland as did several other TC Chinese PhDs. Between 1914 and 1950, forty-five students from China earned doctorates at the school. Research and collaboration began in the early 20th century; John Dewey, famous philosopher and education reformer, lived and researched in China from 1919 to 1921.
China is supporting its current aim, “Education for all” in K-12, with greatly increased funding. Curriculum reform is central to its efforts, and creation of learned “quality citizens” with correct values and attitudes is its goal. The country shifted from Soviet to international model in 1949 and has seen dramatic social and economic changes in the past twenty years as it has gone from a planned to a market economy. In education, it has moved from centralized to decentralized and, recently, back to centralized funding and control as it struggles to find the most equitable system. Increasing disparities in resources between regions and between urban and rural areas have created challenges. The new curriculum has run into some resistance from teachers and administrators who are wed to traditional ways. In such a large, multicultural country, uniform implementation is difficult. The number of students in higher education is exploding. In 1990, less than 4% of all students attended colleges or universities. By 2006, the figure had jumped to 22%. The Chinese labor market is not prepared for so many highly educated workers, and unemployment among college graduates is very high and growing. Questions of “skill mismatches” and “over-education” are fueling a rethinking of the “investment efficiency” of higher education. Free tuition versus fees (current practice) is debated. The doctoral students visiting Teachers College are funded by the Chinese government which hopes they “learn from a first-class university and first-class professors.”
Yingshi Yang, a Chinese student in doctoral studies at TC, is researching “Art Museums as Educational Institutions: A Case Study of Four Museums in New York City with Implications for China.” Both China and the United States have relatively short histories of public museums (they took the idea from Europe), but the concept of museum as educator is quite new in China. Since the first art museum was established in China in 1936 (it had a history museum in 1906), unprecedented future growth is indicated by the government’s plan to have 3,000 museums by 2015. China is determined to build a “harmonious society” and museums are seen as instruments of this aim. Yang, who is associated with Beijing’s National Museum of China (NAMOC), which houses a collection of 19th and 20th century, mostly Chinese, art, has been seeking reasons for the lack of large crowds at his institution and for the many visitors found in New York museums. He has realized that museums must “put audience at the heart of their priorities” and “balance their role as conservator and public educator.” A collection “is not of use unless seen by the public,” he concludes, and “public service is probably the best and only future for museums.” NAMOC, the most important museum in China (“as a national leader, if it changes, others will follow”), opened to the public in 1962 but did not establish an education department until 2005. Yang reports “a lot of things are happening in China and… learning from other museums, education programs are expanding quickly.” Audio guides, public lectures, children’s workshops, book stores, and art appreciation classes have been introduced. Volunteer docents give tours. Judith Burton, TC international exchange director, explains, “Education is a very popular topic in China today,” but a particular challenge is “people do not have the qualifications and training to work in the field of museum education.” Collaborations within and beyond the museum, professional training, and international exchanges are in order. Studies such as Yang’s, which consider cultural similarities and differences, will help determine which museum education practices are appropriate for China.#