Education in Shanghai: What can Nepal learn?

Education policies result in excellent learning only through collaboration and commitment. The Shanghai Project has some important learning for Nepal to reform its education.

Students performing at Shannan Elementary School in Anhui, China.
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Shanghai is often cited as one success story on education. It is evidenced by its students’ strong performance in international assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that concerns students’ performance in Reading, Mathematics, and Sciences as well as in the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) regarding teachers’ professional practices, job satisfaction, collaboration with colleagues, professional development opportunities, and other factors that contribute to the overall teaching and learning environment. The scribe duo had an opportunity to participate in the ‘Integrated Training of Teachers before and after Service’ organized by the UNESCO Teacher Education Centre and Shanghai Normal University in support from Shanghai Municipal Council from November 9-20, 2023.

This article draws insights from that training and attempts to highlight the key features backing up the successful educational landscape of Shanghai, while also offering learnings that Nepali educational policy makers, educators, and teachers can draw from Shanghai’s education system.

What we saw

The ‘Belt and Road Shanghai Exchange Project on Integrated Training of Teachers before and after Service’ project was organized with the aim to explore system design and performance mechanisms of pre-service training and life-long development of teachers through exchange of knowledge, ideas, and experiences among education administrators, university educators, researchers, principals, and teachers from the Belt and Road countries. The program comprised of two modules. The first was dedicated to discussing the process and outcomes for the excellence in teacher education through seminars and lectures, and the second was directed to experiencing the implementation of educational programs at school and classroom levels for quality students’ learning.

Research sharing and presentations during the project highlighted how Shanghai attracts the best talents in teacher education programs, prepares able teachers, and provides continuous teacher development opportunities while teachers are in service. The seminars gave us the idea that quality education is never an accident but it is always the result of intelligent effort. We understood that a strong and systematic collaboration between the Normal University, which prepares teachers, teacher educators, and educational researchers and schools, which implement the educational programs, is the precursor to quality teacher preparation. There are about 100 Normal Universities in China, which intensively collaborate with governments and schools across the country in preparing the required strength of educational human resources to realize the goal of ‘developing students morally, educationally, and physically to make them both “Red” (loyal to the communist party) and “expert” (well-educated and trained for the job)”.

Like in other provinces, Shanghai too has placed aspiring candidates through open competition in the Bachelor and Master level programs in Education. The normal universities offer rigorous courses on core and specialization subjects differently for elementary and secondary levels of education. One remarkable feature of the university courses is the provision of intense and rigorous internships, which the students need to complete by working in schools. The interns are well tended by mentor teachers, and are monitored and supported regularly in their teaching activities. Graduates, thus, develop the philosophy, knowledge, and skills required for implementing the ambitious curricula and standards and educating the children of Shanghai, who perform excellently in academics, ethics, and life skills.

Our exposure to schools and classrooms gave us the realization that, with adequate educational infrastructures and the dedication of the teachers and students, it is possible to harness the extreme talents in children. We found the school curricula were well balanced with their focus on literacy, numeracy, physical education, moral education, and service education. Service education started right from the third grade, that would connect the students to topics related to domestic and industrial production. Topics related to history, geography, culture, Chinese Communist Party, national pride, heritages, tradition, and modernity were incorporated as moral education. We also learnt that there was an equal focus on the skills of arts, calligraphy, dramatics, music, and athletics in the elementary level of education, which would provide the foundation of expression, virtuosity, and all-round development in the children.

We were spellbound by the excellent performances of elementary school children at Shannan Elementary School, Anhui, a partner school of Huainan Normal University. The school was highly spacious, well equipped for individual and group learning and performances. Investment in buildings, classrooms, tools, playgrounds, and equipment was praiseworthy. When the children reached the secondary level, the focus seemed to shift to physics, mathematics, and modern languages, while maintaining studies in moral education and service education continuously. We could sense a visible linkage between mental, moral and physical development as well as production and industry in the secondary level of school education. At Pudong Secondary School, Shanghai, we found a harmonious blend of culture and science, tradition and modernity, and arts and morality in the students and teachers. In addition to laboratory works, experiments, sports and arts, we found that Pudong School, which was one of the partner schools of Shanghai Normal University, had well managed counselling sessions, therapy, extended study time, coaching on specific areas, among others, for the students.

Pudong Secondary School, Shanghai.

Teachers’ performance too was standardized with a heavy emphasis on the planning of materials and lesson activities before the classroom delivery. Besides the conventional academic subjects, students also learnt national pride, production, self- management, and volunteer spirit.  

Learnings for Nepal

The project gave us an opportunity to contemplate and reflect on how an education system can give excellent results. The words of Professor Dr Minxuan Zhang, Head of the Teacher Education Centre, UNESCO, resonates well to Nepal: A successful education system could only be built on the sound foundation of the soil of the nation and shaped by the needs and priorities of the nation. China at present is a reality of miracles in infrastructures, manufacturing, massive production, and efficient management. Produce everything—’from ‘P’ [pin] to ‘P’ [plane]—is the rallying slogan of China. Shanghai, being an industrial and commercial hub in east-central China, has no less aspirations to realize among its students. Shanghai, a city of about 23 million people, has now achieved a complete primary and junior high school enrollment and it is the first city in China to achieve almost universal secondary school attendance. At present, 80 percentage children are studying in the public education system and the rest in international schools. Professor Bo Ning, the Coordinator of the project, attributed these successes to the immense role of Shanghai Normal University and Teacher Education Centre, UNESCO, which work in collaboration with Shanghai Municipal Education Commission in carrying out research in teacher education, organize exchange programs, and promote reforms in education through innovative teaching methods to improve teachers’ capability.

It is only through collaboration and commitment that education policies result in excellent learning. The Shanghai Project gave us some insights for possible reforms in education in Nepal, which are as follows:

First, an efficient education system and transformation can be achieved only with a comprehensive reform including reforms in polices, financing, teacher development, and having proper standards of curricula, assessments, work processes and mechanisms of check and balance in place.

Second, educational policies and programs should recognize the role of teacher workforce, regard teaching as an attractive and respected profession, with clear career advancement mechanisms in place wherein teachers are supported and evaluated systematically to improve performance.

Third, teachers should be highly qualified and well-trained. It should be ensured that they go through a rigorous pre-service training and are well supported with ongoing professional development through which they improve their instructional activities and conduct researches to evaluate and modify their own pedagogy in relation to student outcomes.

Fourth, the curriculum should be carefully designed to cover key academic concepts and skills with a balance of subject specific knowledge and skills, vocational and career skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Fifth, the education system should recognize and involve parents at a high level tapping into their enormous cultural values, time, resources, and support for students’ learning.

Finally, schools become a fulfilling space for the students wherein their mental, physical, vocational and moral spheres are developed through their regular and extended involvement in academics, sports, athletics, arts, dramatics, production and welfare related activities.

[Baburam Thapa is the Chief Advisor of the Confederation of Nepali Teachers.  Dinesh Kumar Thapa is a PhD Fellow at School of Education, Kathmandu University.]