Standardized testing counterproductive to creativity, says educational expert

China’s educational system has resulted in a “test-obsessed culture”, according to one prominent academic, something that is hindering performance beyond school walls.

Jiang Xueqin is presently the Deputy Principal of Tsinghua University High School (Beijing, China), and served previously as the Director of the International Division of Peking University High School. His book, “Creative China”, chronicles his vast experience working in the country’s education system. In an article penned for the Wall Street Journal, Xueqin bemoans standardized testing, claiming it has little to do with accurately assessing capability or potential, and is detrimental to motivating students in the long run. In fact, standardized testing can actually inhibit a student’s ability to think for himself or herself, which can impede creativity, innovation, and independent learning.

“According to research on education, using tests to structure schooling is a mistake,” he writes. “Students lose their innate inquisitiveness and imagination, and become insecure and amoral in the pursuit of high scores. Even Shanghai educators admit they’re merely producing competent mediocrity.”

China is home to some of the most intensive standardized testing in the developed world; the university admission exam, the gaokao, is a grueling examination lasting nine hours. Xueqin is not the only one critical of the system, as other parents and educators are coming to the realization that student motivation and creativity often suffers as a result of it.

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China’s educational system – help or hindrance?

Xueqin has criticized the school system for merely arming students with information, not the ability to learn new information for themselves.

Retention and the ability to score highly when tested on this retention is the primary focus, as opposed to students being able to think critically, approach challenges, try new things and develop new skills. According to Xueqin, this fixed mindset approach to learning does little for motivating students, and even if they do score well, the lack of practical skills means they will likely struggle beyond graduation. “The failings of a rote-memorization system are well-known: lack of social and practical skills, absence of self-discipline and imagination, loss of curiosity and passion for learning,” he writes.

Another issue that the system fails to address is the achievement gap in education. Students from rural areas fall substantially behind peers in urban areas, lessening the chances of them performing well on these standardized tests and gaining any further education. This educational inequality makes it impossible for students to score well, in a society that is obsessed with test results. With teaching methods focussed on raising performance for standardized tests, students hailing from poorer backgrounds then are all but forgotten.

When looking at how to move the system away from being results-driven, along with closing the achievement gap, elements of reform have been introduced. Qibao High School in Shanghai has already began to alter the approach to education, with principle Qiu Zhonghai spearheading the change. He told Bloomberg Business in September 2014: “In my career I have watched many students who aren’t at first the top performers on tests, but 3 years later, 10 years later, 20 years later, they become experts, they become leaders, they take on great important roles in society, in different industries and businesses. That’s what it means to have a great school: to cultivate the skills for long-term success.”