Education reforms in China set to shift focus to “whole person”

prominent scholar in China has reported that the Chinese Ministry of Education is set to introduce a “major reform” to shift emphasis in education away from academic tests. The announcement, which comes just weeks after concerns were raised about the mental health of students in China, promises to “broaden” evaluation methods to fully recognise the health and wellbeing needs of students and “support development as a whole person”.

In a recent survey of 2,151 students in north-east China, almost 50% reported suffering from mental health problems. Last month, Lin Guiru, a mental health advisor for the Ministry of Education, told the China Daily, “The ultimate goal of education should be the cultivation of personality, ideals, an outlook on life and values, good human relationships and communication skills. Unfortunately, our education system places too much emphasis on the cultivation of skills that concentrate on the trivial and neglect the essentials.”

Guiru also emphasised the impact that global economic issues were having on young people, and spoke about work that was underway in universities to “popularise knowledge of mental health” and train students in psychological skills.

The planned education reforms involve the introduction of an evaluation framework encompassing five areas, which include ‘moral development, academic development, health (psychological and physical), wider interests, and academic burdens’. According to Yong Zhao, the quality of education will also be judged based on levels of student engagement, boredom, anxiety, and happiness.

There have been growing calls for similar reforms in the United Kingdom. Writing for the Independent earlier this year, Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, warned that urgent measures need to be taken to curb the rise in student suicides: “A key job, not only of schools but also universities, is to educate the whole person, to help him or her live an autonomous and meaningful life. It is no longer acceptable in the 21st century for universities or schools to hold up their hands and say, “We do exams only: get the rest elsewhere!”

In 2005, SEAL, a scheme designed to promote social and emotional skills was rolled out in British schools, but last month a professor at the University of Manchesterraised concerns that schools were currently being pressured by the government to drop the programmes.

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