Two worlds collide: The NZ and Chinese education systems


For many of us, the ins and outs of the educational system we’ve been brought up in are so deeply embedded in our childhood experiences that we can’t imagine things being done any differently. 


But, as any student who has spent parts of their educational journey in both China and New Zealand will know, the systems in these two countries are fundamentally different.


From decisions made by each country’s Ministry of Education regarding the type of students they wish to create in schools, to the teaching attitudes and methods used in class, both countries have entirely different approaches to schooling. 


What are the main differences between the Chinese and New Zealand educational systems?


Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Chinese schools prioritise the development of “hard skills”, or skills that are teachable and easy to measure. Examples of hard skills include mathematics, data analysis, design, and software development. Some hard skills, such as the ability to use a computer, are useful across many different professions, while some are job-specific (the ability to perform brain surgery is specific to being a doctor, for example).


NZ schools, on the other hand, tend to focus on the development of “soft skills”. Soft skills are less easy to quantify, and include inter-personal qualities such as communication, leadership, flexibility, and the ability to work in a team. Most soft skills are applicable to nearly any profession; for example, the ability to speak clearly and confidently is valued in all workplaces.


While developing hard skills requires practice, repetition, and discipline, soft skills are much harder to teach, and often require the student to take part in extracurricular activities such as sports or debating.


Test-oriented vs. Discovery-oriented

In China, students will learn to take tests and exams from a very early age. Such tests are the only way in which learning is measured in Chinese schools, and there are typically very high expectations set upon students to perform well in these tests. As a result, many students will spend hours and hours preparing for every test, including after-school classes and revision at home.


In New Zealand, while tests and exams are still a part of every student’s educational path (particularly in high school), a heavier emphasis is placed on each individual student’s holistic learning journey, and students are encouraged to learn at their own pace. Tests are becoming increasingly rare for younger students; in 2017, the Ministry of Education even decided to remove National Standards in schools, which had previously set a benchmark for progress for each student. Instead of rigorously preparing for tests, students will take part in a wider variety of activities, and learn for the sake of learning.


Teacher-led vs. Student-led

If you visit a Chinese classroom, you can expect to see the teacher delivering a lecture-style lesson to his or her students, who will be diligently taking notes and are unlikely to ask many questions during the course of the lesson. There are unlikely to be many teacher-student interactions in a typical lesson. This approach stems from a deep respect for the teacher which is embedded in Chinese students; after all, the teacher is the subject matter expert, and is expected to deliver the lesson in the best way he or she knows how.


In New Zealand classrooms, however, teachers are encouraged to use a two-sided learning approach, in which both student and teacher contribute to the learning process. Consequently, a visitor to a New Zealand classroom might observe class discussions, group activities, or the teacher asking a student a question. Self-assured students may even ask their teacher to explain a concept again or in a different way (a request that would be seen as highly disrespectful in China).


The Gaokao

Finally, the differences between the most fundamental aspect of each educational system – their overall purpose – can be seen clearly when considering the final tests that students take before leaving high school.


The Chinese Gaokao is one of the most demanding high school examinations in the world. Sat in June by more than 10 million students each year, the Gaokao is a gruelling standardised test which stands between every Chinese student and their university ambitions. The pressure to do well in the Gaokao is often immense, and most students will essentially spend their entire high school lives with preparation for this exam on the top of their minds. The prevalence of this exam reveals the extent to which Chinese students are expected to conform to national standards, and achieve mastery in a set range of subjects in order to gain entrance into their preferred university.


In New Zealand, on the other hand, there is no standardised test for students leaving school. True, students wishing to go overseas may take tests such as the SAT, and high achievers may take NZQA Scholarship examinations to demonstrate their abilities, but these are very much optional. Students who don’t want to go to university may choose to take other subjects at school which will prepare them for an apprenticeship, or a similar trade course. The wide range of options available to NZ students demonstrates the flexibility of the country’s education system, and the desire to encourage each student to find a career path that works for them.


The EduExperts Approach

At EduExperts, we firmly believe that both the NZ and Chinese systems have advantages and disadvantages, and that neither system is necessarily “better” in all dimensions. Our philosophy is to take the best aspects from each system, and combine them into an approach which pushes students to achieve well in all aspects of life, from sitting exams to developing career-enhancing soft skills.


Our mission statement is to empower every student to become a life-long learner who is responsible, productive, and creatively engaged in their future studies and career. To achieve this, students must first and foremost achieve excellent results in their studies and examinations. Our tutoring programmes, run by our experienced and highly qualified teachers, are designed to maximise each student’s academic potential and unlock a wide range of opportunities for their future.


Yet we also recognise the importance of developing soft skills, such as creativity, communication, and confidence. Success in the modern workplace is driven by a combination of hard and soft skills, and as a result we strive to develop both in our students. Our extracurricular classes, such as those in Trinity Speech & Communication and Debating, actively contribute to a student’s overall development and success.


Want to learn more about our unique approach and how we can help drive your educational journey? Get in touch with your local centre today!


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