Anthony Kuhn reports on how some schools in China are taking a more creative approach to teaching and learning. Kuhn reports on students at Cold Water Middle School in Southwest China who participate in a combined chemistry and math class. Students must run to each other to find the correct chemical compound that creates a reaction. Similarly, students participate in a combined math and history lesson to observe statistical trends in the rise and fall of various nations across history. Zhang Liang, a journalist turned education reformer, developed the Cold Water Middle School and its novel approach to education.

According to Zhang, his interest in China’s education system grew out of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed approximately 70,000 civilians. Zhang states that the devastation of the earthquake made him want to bring humanity back to education, and for students to see the impact their studies have on human well-being. Further, Zhang states that the issue with China’s current education system is that all of the subjects are mutually exclusive of each other. Hence, students are not able to understand the connections and nuances of what they are studying. Zhang’s method of combining subjects mirrors an inquiry-based approach to education, where curiosity drives student learning and ultimately enhances student initiatives.

The Chinese government has ultimate authority in educational matters. However, it does seem that the government is becoming more flexible in the ways students are taught, how they learn, and how they are evaluated. There is pressure from parents, who often complain that their children are being turned into test-taking machines. Some parents have even opted to home school their children, send them to international schools, or vocational schools.

In addition to the Cold Water Middle School, Zhang has developed his own educational consulting company where he designs new curricula for schools interested in adopting his model. Come September 2016, it appears that thirty schools in China will be using Zhang’s model of education. This may be the beginning of a gradual move of China’s educational system away from rote learning and memorization to more creativity, inquiry, and collaboration.

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This post was written by Madeleine De Welles