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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 1, September 2006

Canadian and Chinese classrooms are different

by Wenxing Zheng

Having studied at Simon Fraser University as a master of education student for one year, I’ve had the chance to visit Canadian classes and compare them with the education I experienced in China. The following are 12 differences I found between the two countries. It needs to be said that these are general observations based on my experience and feelings. There are exceptions, of course, in both countries and among different students.

  1. Students in Canada are under less pressure than students in China. In China, most high school students spend more than 10 hours studying everyday with some students studying even longer, usually from 6:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  2. In Canada, teachers use diversified teaching methods in class, like role playing, and group work. In China we rarely use these kinds of pedagogies. Most of the time teachers are lecturing and students are busy taking notes.
  3. Teachers give students a lot of handouts in Canadian classes. Maybe this is the reason why students needn’t take notes here. Everything is on the handouts. In China we depend more on the course books and some exercise books.
  4. There are also some differences in the assignments teachers give. Canadian assignments are more practical and interesting. Students have to use their imagination to express their opinions. There are a lot of subjective factors for a student to consider in completing an assignment. Assignments in China are examination-orientated, tend to be based objectively on facts only, and are intended to focus on students’ memorization and analytical skills.
  5. In Canada, students can pursue their own interests. But in China, parents play a big role in determining what a student’s interests should be.
  6. Comparatively, and generally, in China students tend to excel in academic work because often students have to take extra academic classes after school, usually in math, English, and writing subjects. In Canada, students can pursue their own interests after school.
  7. In China, the classroom is for the students. Teachers go to different classrooms to teach. In Canada, the classroom is for the teacher. Students go to different classrooms to study.
  8. In Canada, teacher’s classrooms are designed in all kinds of styles according to the personality and subjects the teacher teaches. In classrooms in China, the classroom walls are hung with the portraits of famous people who have made great contributions to human development.
  9. In China, parents like teachers to give students difficult questions. In Canada, parents seem to prefer teachers to give students suitable questions. I don’t know whether it is a common phenomenon in Canada. I have a Canadian friend. Her daughter is in Grade 7. Several times, the teacher gave some difficult assignments, which frustrated the young girl. The parent was unhappy and talked to the teacher asking for easier assignments. Such things would never happen in China.
  10. There is only one teacher in a Chinese class, but in Canadian classes there may be a teacher, as well as a teaching assistant or co-teachers.
  11. Except for some schools in big cities, Chinese classrooms only have Chinese people. In Canadian classes there are students from different ethnic origins. In Canada, a teacher needs to have the skills to teach a diverse group.
  12. In Canadian classes, students from different grades may share a classroom. In China students only have classes with students in the same grade.

Comparatively speaking, it is easier to become a teacher in China than in Canada. In my opinion, the differences between the two countries in education originate from conditions and cultural background of the two countries. Canada is a developed country. Its education has a lot of advantages that we lack in China. However, considering the different situations of the two countries, we cannot duplicate the Canadian education system in China. I realize that my observations are only limited to my personal experiences and opinions. But, interacting in two different education systems gives me the luxury of re-examining my own teaching philosophy in the context of the Chinese education system.

Chinese education needs reform. In China, a lot of educators, teachers, and parents ask for that, but it is not an easy job, since we have a large population and comparatively limited education resources. We cannot make sure everybody has a university education, but we try to make sure every student has the equal chance to go to university. We once had a debate in class about whether we should use examinations or authentic tests to evaluate students. Authentic tests usually use portfolios to evaluate students. It looks at the whole learning process of the students, not only one-time examinations. The result is that authentic tests have all kinds of advantages compared to examinations, but currently in China, we cannot use them nationally. It costs more time and money. Basically we cannot afford them. I think we will change the examination-dominated education system gradually, but I don’t think we can dismiss it completely. Even in Canada I know, examination scores occupy 40% of student evaluation in Grade 12.

The things I learned here will definitely help me when I go back to teach. I may not completely copy what I have learned from Canadian classes, but I will combine them with the situation in China. I think learning here gives me more choices in teaching and broadens my mind about education.

Wenxing Zheng attended SFU as a master of education student for one year.


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