Chinese ministers have set in motion reforms to create 'Quality Education'. Katherine Forestier reports from Beijing
Beijing is to become a testbed for reforms developed elsewhere in the world, including elements of the English national curriculum.
The Beijing 21st century school curriculum reform is one of the key education projects of China's ninth five-year plan. The trial curriculum will be published next month and once teaching materials are prepared, and teachers trained, it will be tested in Beijing's primary and secondary schools.
Ji Ping, a teacher-trainer on the working group that has developed the blueprint, said:. "The foundation of the curriculum should be to decrease the difficulty of knowledge and fully vitalise our students. The major difference is that it pays attention to students' holistic development."
Her job included introducing foreign models to the group, which is working under the Beijing Science of Education Research Institute and comprises education officials, academics, teachers and text-book compilers.
The group investigated schools that have already adopted "quality education", as well as overseas systems. For primary level, an integrated teaching approach will be used. For example, American science initiatives such as Science, Technology, Society, and the British national curriculum have been scrutinised.
"We are very keen to find out how to integrate elements of the British system into our own culture," said Ms Ji.
The curriculum focuses as much on teaching style as content. To get away from rote-learning, it includes a rule that at least one third of teaching time should be devoted to students' participation in activities, such as discussion, research or conducting experiments. Students should also take part in field studies outside school at least half-a-day a week.
Subjects will be made more lively. Pop music can be a teaching tool for English. History will focus less on the political and more on the social past. "Students hate the subject because political history is far removed from their lives. But, if they can study topics such as the history of clothing or football, they will like it," said Ms Ji.
Recent Chinese history, though, will remain part of the tightly-controlled politics classes. The new curriculum reduces such classes from three hours to one hour a week but envisages greater integration of moral education.
Students will have more flexibility in selecting subjects and the content of each subject.
The curriculum will be tested in schools with around 30 pupils in a class, compared with the norm of 55 - a viable target given that China's One-Child Policy will allow such a reduction in class size by 2010, said Ms Ji.