Saturday, 28 January 2012

Some reflections on education for foreigners in China

In  China  if  you  meet  a  foreign  student  pursuing  a  programme  taught  in  Chinese  and ask them about  their studies, the likely response you  will get is one that tells  you theirs is a sad  story  worth listening to. You  will be told of the frustration and  the stress that the students   suffer  due to their failure to understand lectures, not because of the difficulty of the concepts presented – well they could be – but because the  students’  competence  in  Chinese  language  is  too  basic  for  university  studies. Why is this so? 

Foreign  students  admitted  into  programmes  taught  in  Chinese  are  put  on  a  one academic  year  Chinese  language  training  programme  before  they  start  their respective  specialties.  Theoretically, this is aimed at preparing the students for their various degree programmes. However, at a practical level, it is irrefutable that this  training  does  not  achieve  much  beyond  equipping  the  students  with  language skills  for  communication  on  the  street.  At  the  end  of  the  one  year,  the  students’ language  skills  –  listening,  speaking,  reading  and  writing  -  are  just  too  weak  to handle  academic  tasks  and  demands.  Consequently, the students go for lectures simply to register their presence, not necessarily to get the content presented by the professors. 

Post  graduate  students  are  better  off  –  they  already acquired  independent  study and  research  skills when they did their first degrees. Such skills sustain them.  However, undergraduates, fresh from high school, therefore with  no  such skills,  are  a  cause  for  worry  as  most  of  them  literary  have  no  idea  of  how  to  study independently and meaningfully.

In order to survive academically, most foreign  students ask their professors  to give them  soft  copies  of  the  lecturers’  teaching  notes  which,  using  online translators,  the students later translate into languages they are competent in so as to get a sense of the ground covered in class. This gives them some direction on what they can read in English books for some in-depth study. That process in itself can be tedious, cumbersome  and  a  headache  but  at  least  it  keeps  alive  the  students’  hopes  of getting  their  degrees. 

The students are not always that lucky, though.  Some lecturers refuse to give students their lecture notes. The professors are not obliged to do so anyway. Others deliver  their  material  without  any  soft  copies,  which  only  complicates matters  for  the  foreign  students.  However, at the end of their stipulated study period,  the  students  return  to  their  respective  countries  with  papers–  they  are university graduates.

Examined  critically,  this  raises  a  serious  question  about  the  quality  of  graduates the  foreign  students  turn  out  to  be  as  they  return  to  their  countries.  One can theorise, without fear of contradiction, that such graduates return to their countries ill equipped for  the  professional  challenges  that  their  studies  are  supposedly  meant  to  prepare them  for.  Or  they  are  equipped,  but  not  as  fully  as  their  Chinese  classmates. 

In quantitative  terms,  the  countries  where  such  students  come  from  experience  an increase  in  the  number  of  graduates  in  different  fields.  In qualitative  terms, however,  it  is  doubtful  that  the  numbers  have  significant  value  in  terms  of  the graduates’  productivity  as  their  countries’  human  capital.  Put simply, such graduates cannot be assets for the development of their countries.

Of course understanding all lectures does not automatically guarantee high quality graduates but it makes a difference in terms of how much knowledge the student acquires at the end of his or her studies. The foreign students’ potential failure to deliver in their countries has implications that should not be ignored. If not checked, the situation could tempt countries that send their students to China to have not-so-positive a view about Chinese education. I believe that this  calls  for  a  well  thought-through  action  by  those  responsible  for  the admission of  foreign students into university programmes taught in Chinese. There is need for a proper analysis of the problem and find solutions.

One obvious area is the duration of the Chinese language training programme. In view of the complexity of Chinese language, two or three years of extensive language training seem a realistic solution to equip the students with adequate linguistic skills for university studies. The  first  year  could  help  the  students  acquire  skills  for  every  day  communication. Then language courses designed to equip the students with specialised language for their areas of studies could follow.

Obviously,  this  implies  a  prolonged  stay  in  university  for  the  students  but  when examined against the long term returns, it is worth it.  By offering to provide education to people from other nations, especially those from the  third  world,  China  demonstrates  its  commitment  to  sharing  development  with the  rest  of  the  world,  hence  the  need  for  a  deliberate  action  to  ensure  that  foreign students get  the most from their studies in order to graduate as valuable assets for their countries. Maybe it is time for heads to roll.             
Some international students on their graduation at a University in China

No comments:

Post a Comment