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  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 10:05pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 4:38am

Students need a dose of liberalism

Asian parents are obsessed with brand-name universities like Harvard and Yale. Just ask Chow Sang Sang boss Gerald Chow King-sing, who spent US$2.2 million unsuccessfully trying to get his two sons into Harvard.

But one of America's best-kept secrets in higher education is its many excellent liberal arts colleges. Nothing beats the camaraderie among the students and intense mentoring by the professors at these top colleges, said Jane McAuliffe, president of the all-women Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia, one of the top colleges in the US. McAuliffe is in Hong Kong to attend a forum with alumni from Asia.

I know it's true from my own experience. With smaller, elegant campuses, these colleges are free of large lecture halls and the impersonal teaching by assistants and unapproachable professors at large universities.

"The undergraduate curriculum may not be all that different from a university, but the student gets involved in the life of the whole community," McAuliffe said. Such college life is often the most intensely scholarly, exploratory and happiest times for many of the graduates. Hollywood's teen movies tend to emphasise the sex and booze in college, but as well as the party animals, you will meet many gifted young people, some of whom will become your lifelong friends - brilliant, thoughtful and self-aware kids with a deep yearning to learn, reflect and discover.

American liberal arts colleges have traditionally had mostly domestic students, but McAuliffe said more and more realise they must attract international students. Many like Bryn Mawr are opening up with recruitment drives in Asia and the Middle East.

"It's one world for your daughter and my students," she told me. For example, McAuliffe said there were more students from China than ever at Bryn Mawr.

Our Chinese students are often perceived as lacking creativity, maturity and independence. Don't blame rote learning, which actually helps many pupils master the basics on which to build higher learning. It has more to do with doting parents supervising their every move.

Four years of an independent college life will make an educated adult out of any Chinese child.


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This article is now closed to comments

The ideal should be seeing a paradigm change in Asian education and parenting, reforming our schools to be in step with the times, hiring visionary chancellors and foster an open and liberal environment; rather than pouring hard-earned Asian money into American schools.
While rote learning is not an independent choice in Chinese culture, liberalism as favored by America’s education too is deep rooted in its culture. US is fortunate being a young country began on a foot that most close to the ideal of liberalism. It is a culture of a relatively open-mind society receptive to reasoning as a way to face unknown. Liberalism is a part of life as a culture for the American. It is rather a short change to benefit as fully for anyone whose culture is not so. It is not to say we can’t change a culture to accept liberalism as a way of life. I certainly hope Chinese culture still has room for a dose of liberalism. Here we may want to define what are basics and how to attain them in educating a student; young and not so young alike.
Rote learning is pretty much a standard Chinese way for students throughout their entire learning life. One must question if education for Chinese students should be mastering the basics. There are those excelled and those failed in a rote learning environment. They are both responding to a condition in learning with their natural ability. Without any alternatives Chinese rote learning education is actually producing failing students on the very first day of their schooling. While there must be other way besides using memorization to which rote learning uses, there should be attention to students of various gifts and interests especially to those who respond negatively to learning basics by rote or not. Here America has done a marvelous job in creating many specialized schools for the gifted. Rote learning and craving for all things basic seem to be a value grounded in Chinese culture and hence they feed on each other for years to come.


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