Chinese kids are smart. The kids of Shanghai cleaners outperform those of British doctors and lawyers in math, and Shanghai’s richest students are about three academic years ahead of the developed-country average. Students in the 90th percentile in the US score below the average Shanghai student on a test given to 15 year-olds around the world (pdf).
But tests only tell you so much about Chinese students’ smarts, says Xiaodong Lin, a professor of cognitive studies at Columbia University’s Teachers College. When they come to university in the US, Chinese students tend to struggle with analytical writing, critical thinking, and communication with peers and professors, Lin wrote in the People’s Daily (link in Chinese), the official newspaper of China’s Communist Party.
“While Chinese education has focused more on mastery of knowledge, the American education seems to emphasize how to learn, even though we may not do as a good job as we wish,” she wrote.