100,000+  jobs in China
The difference between Chinese and American education
Author: EnglishTeacher    2022-08-03


The difference can be summed up in one photograph:


China does not have enough teachers. Nor enough schools. This leads to overcrowding.

According to The Economist:

Education officials define classes of “normal” size as those with up to 45 students. Classes with more than 55 pupils are considered “large” and those with more than 65 are “super-large”. But the average for junior-high schools exceeds 45 in 15 Chinese provinces, and is more than 55 in two. One district in Chongqing, a region in the south-west, reports an average size of nearly 73 students. A class size of 120 has been reported at a secondary school in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing.

I have been a teacher in China for about five years now. In private schools the class sizes are more manageable but in public schools the class size can get really extreme.

Now ask yourself, what kind of insane teacher is going to assign, mark, and evaluate 45 argumentative essays per week?

As is often the case for developing countries, China’s educational infrastructure and resources are stretched too thin. This means if you’re a teacher that has to manage a class of 40, 45, or 50 students all on your own, for the sake of your own sanity your curriculum is naturally going to gravitate towards assignments that are easy to mark and grade.

You guessed it:


Say hello to multiple choice. Much easier to a run an exam through a ScanTron machine than it is trying to mark 45 persuasive essays.

Incidentally, this also explains another thing:


The stereotype that “Asians are good at math” or “Chinese are good at math” is actually true. And I know this because I also teach Math in China.

On average, I’d say Chinese math is about 1 year ahead of American math in primary school, and maybe even two years aheadin secondary school. So the math you learned as a senior is the math Chinese students are studying as sophomores. Let that sink in for a sec.

This is because marking (marking, not teaching) math problems are relatively easy. When grading a math assignment, you mark if the student has showed their work and arrived at the correct sum. It is faster to mark than English exams. I’ve been teaching both Math and English for five years.

Note that easier to grade does NOT mean easier to teach. And of course math problems will take longer to mark at more advanced levels (I only teach Math up to eighth grade). But on the whole they can be more easily graded than English assignments.

So yes, average Chinese students can probably kick your butt at math, stereotype or not. But don’t take it too hard because you can probably write better essays.

Let me stress that there is nothing in traditional or contemporary Chinese culture that runs contrary to composing argumentative or persuasive writing. It is purely a numbers thing. As China becomes more developed and can afford to build more schools and hire/train more teachers, the student:teacher ratio will become less extreme and Chinese curricula can focus more on other disciplines like writing and critical thinking. The stereotype that “Chinese can’t do critical thinking, they’re all brainwashed drones, its in their culture” blah blah blah is not true. All humans have the capacity to learn any discipline. What matters is the resources at their disposal.

P.S. I tried looking up the statistics for China’s pupil:teacher ratio and all official Chinese sources claim it’s around 16 students for every teacher. However, a pupil:teacher ratio of 16 does not mean every class has 1 teacher and 16 students. This is because many registered teachers may have administrative or non-teaching roles (curriculum development, etc.). Also in high school some teachers teach elective classes with very small class sizes, which would also throw off the numbers.

According to the official source, China’s average class size is about 36 students for primary school and 48 for middle school.


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