All Chinese Students are ___ (Part 2)

Sunday, February 12, 2012 19:08
Posted in category The Big Picture

While it has been a few weeks since Dan at CLB posted his article (and I posted my response) about commonly held stereotypes held by American students of their Chinese cohorts on campus, I thought I would post a part two as I cam across a couple of interesting articles that offered more insights into the complexity of the issue.. as well as the Chinese student perspective.

The first article, A Surge in Graduate Students from China Brings Big Benefits, comes from Big Think, and is focused on the benefits that Chinese students are providing to the US education system. No surprises here about what the primary focus of the article is. Chinese (international) students are bringing cash, and lots of it:

International students contributed more than $21 billion dollars in tuition and living expenses to the US economy, according to the 2011 Open Doors report by the Institute of International Education (IIE). This means they contribute money to the local economy, transportation, health insurance, room, board, books and supplies. New York state alone saw about $2.5 billion dollars of that total.

.. and even says that Chinese are contributing to the classroom:

Classrooms are being enriched with the perspectives and participation of students from China,” said Blumenthal. “And American students who might never visit China now have the chance to work with, room with and be lab partners with students from China.”

The second article, The China Conundrum, comes from the November 6 New York times, and focuses more on the difficulties that Chinese students face when entering the US education system, and the impacts those difficulties have on the classroom.  It is the NY times version of Dan’s original article, that instead of using third party statements about the impact of Chinese students in the classroom, goes to the source. the administrators, the students and the professors.

From the administrator:

he is candid about the challenges Delaware is facing as the population of Chinese students has grown from a handful to hundreds. Confronting plagiarism is near the top of the list. Dr. Stevens remembers how one student memorized four Wikipedia entries so he could regurgitate whichever one seemed most appropriate on an in-class essay — an impressive, if misguided, feat. American concepts of intellectual property don’t translate readily to students from a country where individualism is anathema.

[...] Instead of living with a randomly selected American, Dr. Stevens says, some freshmen will pay their required housing fees but rent apartments together off campus, a violation of university rules. And they rarely attend voluntary functions at the institute. At a gathering this summer, of the nearly 400 students from 40 countries, about 10 were from China. Also, according to Dr. Stevens, students regularly switch classes to be with their countrymen, rather than stay in the ones they’ve been assigned by their advisers.

From the student:

Damon Ma is in the language center’s so-called bridge program, which means his English was good enough that he could start taking regular classes even though he hasn’t finished with the language program. Mr. Ma is very enthusiastic about studying in the United States, something he’s dreamed about doing since he was a boy, and he is conscious of the academic contrasts between the two countries.

“Everything is copying in China,” Mr. Ma says. “They write a 25-page paper and they spent two hours and they got an A.”

He was nervous about taking his first university class — an introduction to ancient Chinese history — and, a few weeks into the semester, was still wrestling with the language barrier. “I understand maybe 70 percent,” he says. “I can’t get the details, the vocabulary.”

From the professor:

During quizzes, Dr. St. Pierre now requires everyone to leave their books at the front of the classroom to prevent cheating, a precaution not taken during any of his two decades at Delaware. And participation counts less, so as not to sink the grades of foreign students. In the past, he required members of the class to give two or three presentations during the semester. Now he might ask them to give one. “I’ve had American students saying they don’t understand what’s being said in the presentations,” he says. “It’s painful.”

Robert Schweitzer, a professor of finance and economics, frets about using fairly basic vocabulary words. “I have students say, ‘I don’t know what ‘ascending’ means,’ ” Dr. Schweitzer says. “Did they get the question wrong because they don’t know the material or because they don’t know the language?”

It is an article, that offers a little more balance insofar as it  sourced are named, and the problem is investigated across the stakeholders, but it is still heavy handed on the limitations of the Chinese and could have been more interesting if it has dug deeper into the person struggle of Chinese students themselves.

But, given the crux of the article was focused on the struggles of the universities to identify and integrate the flow of Chinese students, I would say the point was well made, and it was interesting to see how different schools were implementing systems that are meant to mitigate the downside of accepting such large numbers of Chinese students:

Some universities, too, are hiring outside evaluators to review transcripts or are opening offices in China with local staff members who can spot the application red flags that colleges are missing. But interviewing and thoroughly evaluating every applicant, considering the deluge, would be an enormous and expensive undertaking.

Which leads me to a few thoughts.

Chinese students themselves (in my opinion) face many of the exact same cultural hurdles that other international students have faced when it comes to integrating on campus, and many of the same academic hurdles that other Asian students have faced.  But those hurdles were manageable at 20-30 students because the proportions were not great enough to upset the classroom balance. Worst case scenarios were labeled with “That Chinese student”.  But with the numbers increasing exponentially, Delaware is now at 1200, that “Chinese student” has reached a proportion that can now upset the balance.

And even at these numbers, there is nothing wrong with the students themselves (they are clearly trying their best in the majority of cases), and there is nothing wrong with the schools looking to China for more students (even if it is for the money).

Where the problem lies is in those schools who will look to attract any student from China, and look to bring them into a system that is not prepared for the uniqueness of these students. It is a decision no unlike one that a multinational would have to make when considering whether or not to source from China, and integrate that source into their greater supply chain.  Standards (and tolerance levels) need to be set, investments in identify the best sources need to be made, testing needs to be in place to ensure that standards are being met, and if failures occur corrective action before scaling up the input needs to happen.

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