Shanghai to tame the 'little emperors';Briefing;International

26th March 1999 at 00:00

Shanghai, with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, is trying to regain its pre-war status as the leading east Asian business centre. Yet, its highly competitive, exam-dominated education system is being re-directed by the government towards personal, moral and social development of the child.

The changes will put the city, renowned for innovation, at the forefront of China's educational reforms. Comprehensive development has been enshrined by President Jiang Zemin, who spearheaded the massive reform last year.

Traditionally, children have been taught to recite their lessons, pass exams, but not how to think and use their judgment. Now, schools are charged with helping children to socialise and become good citizens as well as tomorrow's entrepreneurs.

This has come about not only because China's market-orientated modernisation policy demands change, but because the one-child-per-family dictat introduced 20 years ago, resulting in a dramatic drop in Shanghai's population to 13 million, has produced a more selfish generation of children dubbed "little emperors".

The days are gone when students were assigned a course and a job. Market forces offer more opportunity and more responsibility.

The city's education commission has looked to other countries, especially Britain, for educational examples of good practice. The commission's deputy director, Zhang Minsheng visited the UK under a British Council project focusing on school inspection.

Ms Zhang Lan, acting director of the inspection office, who has also visited Britain, said: "Inspection must be a partnership; we are there to help the school improve. I think relations between inspectors and teachers are better here than in the UK. The two countries can learn from each other."

Even Professor Tang Shengchang, head of Shanghai high, the most prestigious school in the region, acknowledged the value of inspectors.

"They will help us to get the school to an even higher level. They found that some of our teachers needed more time to train, especially in new technology, and others needed to improve their teaching skills."

Professor Tang has embraced the reforms and has introduced a curriculum designed to get his high-achieving students (90 per cent go on to top universities) to do community work, outdoor pursuits and listen to visiting lecturers "to tell them what is happening in society".

"We want students to develop their personalities, a sense of morality and understand the relationship between society and the individual," he said.

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