According to the New York Times, Shanghai’s 15-year-old middle school students scored top of the world on all three subjects, math, science and reading in the international standardized PISA exam. In true Shanghai spirit (one other thing Shanghai must score on or near the top: crazy parents), our much tortured students indeed do crazily well in school. Shocker to the Americans. Not shocking to us at all. Although there was something shocking to even us: even students from some of Shanghai’s technical middle schools, the kind of schools you go to when you fail miserably in entrance exams, participated in the exam conducted in April of 2009, which sampled around 5000 15-year-old students in the city. Shanghai Southwest Engineering School and Shanghai Medical Workers’ College, technical schools whose entrance scores were on average 150 points lower than the ones of Shanghai’s top middle schools, participated in the test.
It did seem that the PISA test was easy for Chinese students. Even the below par students could do well on it. Government press releases in 2009 called the test “fun and practical, focusing on real life problem-solving abilities,” and that “spelling mistakes don’t count as wrong answers.” Now the curious case of Benjamin Button: why are Chinese students still seeking to study abroad at younger and younger age? We can think of one reason: what kind of kids want to be good at math, science and reading anyway? It’s absurd how competitive kids these days are. When we are on the 6 o’clock rush hour subway, there are elementary school age kids talking about math. Not cool. Better go to American high schools and do nothing. Actually New York Times was a step ahead of us, already supplying the story with a debate called “Why many Chinese graduates do no better than migrant workers.” Duh. Good scores don’t matter! And why are these people so concerned? Of course, someone who wrote a book called “Coming Collapse of China” has an opinion on that. (Quite an interesting fact: the book was written in 2001…) Somehow we can’t help thinking about the running joke in the American society now: Americans rank No 1. in the world in confidence, No. 18 in academics. (It looks like they are even worse in this round of PISA results.)
Let’s be upfront here. Dear New York Times, your on-going concerning-trolling about China is just getting more and more ridiculous. You do a story on Shanghai students getting top scores on all three categories in an international standardized test, and second paragraph in, you are already doubting the legitimacy of the test. Certainly you wouldn’t be doing a story like that if Norway had won like last time? Give yourself a break, pretty please?
In all fairness and seriousness, from our own experience, Shanghai’s high schools are quite good in setting up a solid foundation to intense, well-rounded learning in the future. It’s the universities that are intoxicating the young generation by not providing them the incentives to think, to create and to pursue individual academic interests, in turn completely letting the foundation to waste. There need to be a real reform in education, and the top priority should be revamping the entire higher education system, period.