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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Winning education: America and China!

Providing a student with a taste of life in two of the most powerful and dynamic nations in the world is a winning combination.

I AM always being asked by anxious parents about where they should send their sons and daughters to school or university.

As a graduate of a British university, most people would expect me to be a big promoter of UK institutions.
In the past, that would have been the case, but nowadays I’m no longer so convinced.

Indeed, the smartest Malaysian parents have already anticipated changing trends, sending their offspring to the United States, especially schools on the East Coast (and Ivy League colleges).

At the same time, virtually every young Chinese Malaysian scion is expected to spend at least a year or so brushing up his or her Mandarin in Beijing.

Some even attempt courses at the city’s prestigious Peking University.

To my mind, it’s a winning combination: providing a student with a taste of life in two of the most powerful and dynamic nations in the world.

This doesn’t mean that I think American graduates (even Ivy Leaguers) are cleverer than their British counterparts.

If anything, they’re just more articulate and confident.

These are qualities, however, that tend to evaporate the moment they put pen to paper.

Indeed, I’ve never understood the educational value of multiple choice tests so in vogue in the American education system.

Why is this trend occurring?

Well, for one thing, American universities really score in terms of the money at their disposal and the incredibly diverse student body.

This in turn creates a superb and influential network for the future for their students.

At the same time, one of the most high-profile recent British graduates was Bo GuaGua, the son of disgraced Communist Party apparatchik Bo Xilai.

The young Bo studied at the elite British public school, Harrow, followed by Oxford University’s Balliol College.

When his father and mother fell so spectacularly from grace, GuaGua’s ostentatious ways and flamboyant educational choices were viewed as evidence of his parent’s waywardness and lack of discretion.

With China now the source of the world’s largest number of overseas students (surpassing even India), GuaGua’s disastrous stint in the UK may well prove to be a powerful disincentive for other parents in Beijing and Shanghai.

Indeed, a million Chinese students were studying abroad by the end of 2006 and in 2011 alone, 340,000 students headed overseas.

The shift may well take time as London remains an important financial capital despite its fading diplomatic leverage.

Still, the Great Power rivalry across the Pacific means that the United States possesses a powerful allure for Chinese parents as they seek to prepare their children for the future.

The children of China’s new rich can now be found in places like the Phillips Andover Academy (founded in 1778, the alma mater of President George W. Bush), its rival Phillips Exeter (1781) and the Groton School (1884, where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt studied).

They’re attractive to Chinese parents because it gives their children the edge for entry to Ivy League universities like Harvard or Yale.

Even Bo GuaGua headed to the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) to study public policy after Oxford.

US Department of Homeland Security numbers indicate that there were 6,725 Chinese students in American secondary schools in 2011, compared to just 65 in 2006.

Overall, more than 157,000 Chinese students studied in America that year – a full 22% of the total number of foreign students there.

China again surpassed India as the largest source of overseas students for America in 2010.

Malaysia, in contrast sent just 6,190 students to America that year.

It would seem that many Malaysians still hanker for British educational institutions – perhaps to our disadvantage.

As this is being written, the best and brightest minds from the world’s two superpowers are rubbing shoulders in the schoolyards and lecture halls of America as well as, increasingly, China.

It’s always a good thing when young people come together.

Perhaps the long-feared clash between China and the West may not materialise after all as children from both compete in their respective elite institutions instead.

By Karim Raslan

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