Author: Ronald F. Price was born in Wales (1926) and educated in England. He received an External London degree in Botany & Zoology, which was followed by teacher training at Exeter. He taught technical colleges in England, and China and Bulgaria. He obtained a Ph.D. in Comparative Education at London University and then taught Comparative Education and Science Method at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, retiring in 1991. He continues to live and write in Melbourne.
China has the largest educational system in the world, with more than 200 million students enrolled in public schools. Estimates indicate that only 20 percent of the students who enter kindergarten complete the ten-year program of formal schooling. About 80 percent of the population of China lives in rural areas, and enrollment in school tends to be lower in there than in Chinese cities.
Science education, like other subjects in the Chinese curriculum, has experienced change. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China (1966 – 1976), schooling was given less emphasis, being shortened from 12 to 10 years, as well as becoming less academic and more vocational. Cross and Price point out, however, that “this period in education in China is of undoubted interest for teachers in the West because of the way in which Chinese curriculum writers appear to have attempted to produce textbooks that stressed the relevance of science rather than its theoretical aspects.[i]
For example, their analysis of Chinese physics texts revealed that there appeared to be a greater emphasis on “useful knowledge rather than understanding laws and principles.” [ii] Although the present Communist regime in Beijing has rejected the Great Cultural Revolution, Cross and Price point out that what might be lost is the attempt of Chinese educators during this period to ‘combine education with productive labor’ in contrast to traditional ‘goose-stuffing’ methods.
In 1978 two conferences were held to rebuild the science curriculum after the Great Cultural Revolution. These conferences, attended by thousands of scientists and educators, shaped the new emphasis on science in China, which according to Hurd, is as follows: “[ER1] In contrast with science education policies characteristic of the Cultural Revolution, the new science program was viewed as one emphasizing basic theories and stressing logical and abstract thinking. Problem solving, conceptualizing, and applying knowledge leading to production were to be stressed.”[iii]
The new science program in China, which resulted in new textbooks and curricula, is based on goals formulated by scientists and teachers as follows:
- Mastery of key concepts and basic information;
- Ability to conceptualize and make inferences;
- Development of systematic and logical methods for analysis and synthesis in solving problems;
- Appreciation of the importance of physical models in thinking;
- Facilitation of the student’s ability to apply knowledge to practical problems, especially in agriculture and production;
- Appreciation of the evolution of science concepts to foster a dialectical-materialistic point of view and way of thinking;
- Development of skills in experimental procedures and in the use of scientific instruments.[iv]
Textbooks that are written by committees of scientists and teachers drive science education in China. According to Hurd, the first set of texts produced after the Cultural Revolution were criticized as being too theoretical and impractical for many Chinese students.
Following is a brief examination of the scope and sequence of the Chinese science curriculum, and some comments about science instruction in Chinese schools.
<3>The Scope and Sequence of the Science Curriculum
Primary school science in grades 1 to 3 is not taught as a separate “subject” but is part of the physical education program. The texts use stories about science, inventions, animals, personal hygiene, and community sanitation to present science. In grades 4 and 5, science is taught twice a week throughout the school year. Grade 4 science emphasizes weather and the atmosphere, and the biology of plants and animals. The course also emphasizes human physiology and diseases, physics topics including simple machines, sound, electricity, heat and light, and topics in earth and space science, including the earth’s rocks and soils, the solar system, stars, and the universe.
Secondary level science is divided into three years each at the junior and senior levels. Science courses make up slightly more than 20 percent of the Chinese student’s curriculum in most of the nation’s schools.
Although there are different arrangements of Chinese schools (five-year versus six-year schools, priority versus non-priority), the science curriculum includes sequenced courses in physics, chemistry and biology.
As in many of the other countries discussed in this section, science is given high priority in the curriculum. One question that we might raise given the priority of science in China’s schools is how is science taught?
In an analysis of science textbooks in Chinese schools, Cross, Henze, and Price concluded, after an exhaustive analysis of topics and questions at the end of each chapter, that the aim was to produce specialists, and the textbooks did not appear to provide training skills that would be useful in a variety of situations. They also concluded that the following goals were not emphasized: problem solving, the application of principles to novel situations, and interpreting and predicting.[v] Although it is difficult to generalize on the actual nature of classroom instruction in Chinese classrooms, Cross, Henze, and Price make these observations:
Class sizes are very large, often ranging from fifty to seventy students per class. Only in a few schools within each province is equipment comparable to what one finds in schools in the advanced industrial countries, though in the best-equipped schools it is excellent, both in quality and quantity. Probably for reasons of class size and availability of equipment class experiments are confined to the few ‘Student Experiments’ listed in the textbooks or may even be totally absent. But teacher demonstration is common, often involving special apparatus. Lessons are formal, closely following the textbook. Students memorize a great deal of material and work through exercises, regularly being brought to the blackboard to answer questions orally.[vi]
Note: Please consult the Companion Website for tables on the Chinese science curriculum.
[i] Roger Cross and Ronald Price, “School Physics as Technology in China During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Lessons for the West,” Research in Science Education 17 (1987): 165 - 174
[ii] Cross and Price, “School Physics as Technology in China,” 165 – 174.
[iii] Paul DeHart Hurd, “Precollege Science Education in the People’s Republic of China,” in Margrete Siebert Klein, and F. James Rutherford, eds., Science Education in Global Perspective: Lessons from Five Countries (Washington D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1985), p. 70. /
[iv] Hurd, “Precollege Science Education,” pp. 69-70.
[v] Roger T. Cross, Juergen Henze, and Ronald F. Price, “Science Education for China’s Priority Schools: The Example of Chemistry,” School Science and Mathematics, 92, 6, 325-330.
[vi] Cross, Henze, and Price, “Science Education for China’s Priority Schools”
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