I NTE R N AT I0 N AL SC I EN C E EDUCATION
William W. Cobern, Section Editor
Science Education in the Peoples Republic of China
WENJIN WANG Beijing VocationallTechnical College, Beijing, Peoples Republic of China
JIAYI WANG Shanghai Secondary Vocational Center, Shanghai, Peoples Republic of China
GUIZING ZHANG Shanghai VocationallTechnical Teachers College, Shanghai, Peoples Republic of China
YONG LANG Central China University of Science and Technology, Huazhong, Peoples Republic of China
VICTOR J. MAYER The Ohio State University, Earth Systems Education Program, Ramseyer Hall, 29 West Woodruff Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Science education in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has a long history. Under the influence of traditional culture, science education in the PRC has its own unique characteristics; for example, it is teacher-centered, theory focused, national examina- tion oriented, and homework supplemented. We also find it is characterized by sys- tematic after-class activities and the active involvement of parents. Though science teachers on the whole do not have strong academic backgrounds, they attach great importance to lesson planning and exchange of experiences following systematic pre- or in-service teacher training. As the PRC experiences rapid economic growth, its cultural and educational exchanges with other countries throughout the world will continue to grow. It is the senior authors belief that through the development of this
Science Education 80(2): 203-222 (1996) 0 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. CCC 0036-8326/96/020203-20
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international mutual studying, China will overcome its shortcomings and enhance its strengths in science education. There are also lessons for American science educators to learn about education from this very old culture that has valued education throughout its history. 0 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is a large developing country with a ter- ritory of 3,700,000 square miles, which is slightly larger than that of the United States. It has a population of 1,169,619,000, approximately 4.5 times that of the United States (Famighetti, 1993). To educate this large population there are nearly 730,000 elementary schools with 5,532,200 teachers and 121,641,500 students and more than 100,000 high schools with over 3,700,000 teachers and nearly 54,000,000 students (State Education Commission, 1992). Therefore, since sci- ence is taught at all grade levels, the number of people involved in science educa- tion in China is the largest in the world. Because of the countrys size, political system, and culture, science education differs in many ways from that found in the United States and other Western countries. It is therefore valuable for American science educators to know more about how science education is approached in the PRC .
The general goal of education in the PRC is to raise the educational level of the whole nation. Education is viewed as a means to train the skilled personnel needed to transform China into a more prosperous, powerful, and modem socialist country. Science education, as a part of general education, supplies people with a solid foun- dation of knowledge about the natural world and with certain skills in problem ana- lyzing and problem solving. Therefore, science education is seen as an important component in achieving the general goal of education for the country.
In China, because economic development in large and medium-sized coastal cities differs from that in inland, especially rural, areas the problems faced in education are quite different. The educational system in large and medium-sized coastal cities is more fully developed. Here are found modern four- to seven-story school buildings with large, bright classrooms, many of which are equipped for experiments. Partly because of economic factors, however, schools in rural areas are in former temples equipped with a few desks and benches. There is little equipment for student use in these made-over classrooms. There are also differences in the quality and background of teachers. Because of these marked differences, this article characterizes science education primarily in those secondary schools located in Chinas large and medium- sized coastal cities where much of the countrys population resides. The reader needs to keep in mind that the educational conditions found there are not general through- out the country.
Education in the PRC is highly centralized as an integral part of the governmental structure of country. The State (national) Education Commission determines educa- tional policy for the entire country. It also develops and evaluates the national exami- nation system given at the end of high school thus having a strong mechanism for en- forcing national policy. Funding for education, however, is derived from the provincial or municipal governments. The provincial or municipal education com-
SCIENCE EDUCATION IN THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF CHINA 205
missions are designated by the government to carry out national educational policy and any locally developed policies. These commissions develop and administer ex- aminations that determine students passage from the junior high to the high school level and admission to the national examination.
THE SCIENCE CURRICULUM
At both the elementary and secondary levels, Chinese students take a variety of courses taught in self-contained classes. There are usually 40-50 students in one class. The relative ages of students at each grade level are the same as those in the United States. The academic calendar of schools is composed of two terms. There are usually 21 weeks in each term. A typical school day begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. It is divided into six periods with each period lasting from 40 to 50 min- utes. Classes are held 6 days per week. All students enrolled at the same grade level throughout the country take the same courses. At the secondary level, for example, students take three different science courses, biology, chemistry, and physics. Students stay in the same room throughout the day. Each teacher will come to the students room at the time scheduled for that teachers subject. Some newer high schools may have a special laboratory room. On a day when there is a laboratory ac- tivity scheduled in a science course, the class may go to the laboratory room for that day only. Table 1 presents a timetable of a single week of courses for students in a class in grade 8.
Only 30-40% of junior high school graduates are allowed to enter academic se- nior high schools. Almost the same percentage of graduates from senior high schools is allowed to enter college. Those who want to enter a higher level of education must pass a nationally uniform entrance examination. This examination is similar to a combination of the general SAT and the advanced area-specific examinations held in the United States. Information from the science courses is included in the entrance examinations. Because of their importance to the future of the students, teachers, par- ents, and students pay great attention to them. The examination system, therefore, plays a very important role in science education.
TABLE 1 Typical Subject Schedule for a Grade 8 Class
P Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1 Math Geography Politics Physics Math Chinese 2 English Math Math Biology Chinese English 3 Hygiene English sports Chinese Sports Math 4 History Chinese English Chinese English Geography 5 Chinese Biology Practical Math Politics Hygiene 6 Physics After-school Arts History Class meetings Arts
7 Music activities
P = periods are 45 minutes in length.
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The term science education is defined differently in different countries. In the United States, science education includes content and processes from the disciplines of biology, chemistry, earth science, environmental sciences, and physics and ex- cludes geography. In China, science education usually includes nature, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, hygiene, and environmental protection and also excludes geography. Content and processes from the earth sciences are not normally included in the science curricula. This is because, following the revolution in 1949, Russia was looked to as an example for the Chinese people to follow. Many Russian ideas were carried to the PRC and implemented in the educational system. Russian educa- tion excluded geography and the earth sciences, thus none are taught in Chinese sci- ence education. Following the Great Leap Forward in 1958- 1960 and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966-1976, and in part because of the need to accommodate the population growth of China, many Russian influences were elimi- nated from the educational system. Physical geography and the Earth sciences, how- ever, are still absent from science curricula although political and economic geogra- phy content is included in the social studies curriculum (Butler, 1986). Table 2 presents science subjects found in Chinese elementary and high schools.
Following is a brief description of each science subject and is based on each of the senior authors 10 or more years of experience as science educators in the system. The descriptions focus on the secondary school, grades 7 - 12.
Students have two periods of biology class per week in grades 7, 8, 10, and 11. This accounts for about 4.5% of instructional time in these grades. Biology includes topics from botany (taught in grade 7) and zoology (taught in grade S), and some ba- sic knowledge about evolution, heredity, and nutrition (taught in grades 10 and l l ) .
TABLE 2 Class Periods Required for Science Courses and Geography
Subject 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Total
Nature 1 2 2 5 Biology 2 2 2 2 8 Hygiene 2 2 4 Chemistry 3 3 3 3 1 2
Environmental protection 1 1
Geography** 2 2 3 2 2 11
Physics 2 3 4 3 4 1 6
Total 1 2 2 4 6 7 9 8 7 4 6
*Elementary school includes grades 4-6, junior high grades 7-9, and senior high
**Geography is a part of the social studies curriculum. Only a small part of the grade 11 grades 10- 12.
course is devoted to physical geography.
SCIENCE EDUCATION IN THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF CHINA 207
At the end of grade 11, there is a locally constructed examination for all students in the province or municipality. Passage of this examination is one of the standards used to determine if a student can graduate from high school and whether the student can be admitted to the national examination.
This is a science course offered to students in grades 7 and 8. Two periods per week are required, accounting for a little over 2% of the total instructional time at those grade levels. In this course, students learn about the structure of the human body, the functioning of its different systems, and the relationship between human health and environmental quality. Nutrition fundamentals are also studied. Only local examinations are given in this subject to determine passage into high school.
Students have three periods of chemistry class per week in grades 9-12 ac- counting for about 7% of instructional time. In grade 9 of the junior high school, students are exposed to the fundamentals of the field. In senior high schools, stu- dents spend 2 years studying the theory and foundations of inorganic chemistry. They also spend 1 year studying organic chemistry. Chemistry is one of the sub- jects appearing in the senior high entrance exam. It is also a subject on the na- tional examination for those students who seek admission to science and technol- ogy universities.
Students normally have two periods of physics per week in grade 8, three periods per week in grades 9 and 11, and four periods per week in grades 10 and 12. Almost 9% of the total classroom instruction focuses on physics content. The physics cur- riculum runs in two topic cycles: one in the junior-high school, and the other in the senior high school. Each cycle follows the following sequence:
Mechanics+Heat-*Electricity and Magnetism +Optics-*Atomic Physics
Physics is another subject appearing on the senior high entrance exam and it is a sub- ject on the college entrance examination for those students wishing to be admitted to a science or technology university.
Nature is the science course taught in elementary schools. Students have one pe- riod per week in grade 4 and two periods per week in grades 5 and 6. In this course, students are expected to gain competencies in biology, physics, chemistry, and mete- orology. The primary objective of this course is to cultivate students interest in sci-
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ence and to develop their basic scientific literacy. Local examinations given at the end of grade 6 help to determine admission to junior high school.
Students are required to spend two periods per week in grades 5 , 6 , 8, and 11, and three periods in grade 7 studying geography as a part of the social studies curriculum.
Among the total periods of instruction in high schools, the instruction time allo- cated to geography is about 4%. In junior high school, the geography cumculum fo- cuses on Chinese and world geography. Students learn about physical, political, and economic geography in grade 11. There are examinations in both grades 8 and 11 sponsored by the province or municipal education commissions.
Since 1992, an environmental protection course has been added to the curriculum. There is one period each week for this course. A new textbook published in 1991 was compiled specifically for this subject. In this textbook, four main aspects of environ- mental protection are discussed. They are: (1) the importance of environmental pro- tection both in China and in the world; (2) the seriousness of environmental pollution in China; (3) the laws and policies about environmental protection; and (4) the meth- ods of dealing with environmental pollution. This course is taught primarily in larger cities and usually by the chemistry teacher. A local examination for students complet- ing this course is used to help determine admission to the next higher grade.
Environmental topics are often integrated into other science courses. In chemistry, for example, while the student is learning about air and oxygen, the ozone layer and its depletion and the probable effects on human life are discussed.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SCIENCE TEACHING
The nature of science teaching in the PRC can be characterized in four broad ar- eas, the nature of classroom teaching activities and what determines it, the types and roles of after-school activities, the degree of involvement of parents in science educa- tion, and the underlying cultural influences.
Characteristics Related to Classroom Teaching Activities
The Use of Lecture. Lectures are the primary method used i...