Students wearing school uniforms, Haikou City, Hainan Province, China. Photo: Anna Frodesiak.

Even though I only went to an American college, I have a sense of what the American school system is like from elementary to high school. When I compare it with my 12 years of my schooling experience in China, I have a general sense of some of the major differences between Eastern and Western school systems.

Collectivism is more valued than individualism in Eastern school systems. From my experience in the Chinese school system, the uniformity and consistency of the student body seems to indicate the quality of the school in the Chinese education system. In middle school and high school, students were not allowed to wear makeup, hair dye, ear piercings, or wear overly fashionable clothing. In fact, all students wear the same baggy sportswear like uniforms in school. Apart from identical uniforms, students’ haircuts also go through a series of strict requirements. For example, for girls with long hair, they need to tie up their hair, and for those with short hair, they need to make sure the haircuts show the ears and eyebrows. For boys, all of them need to have short hair, and their hair needs to be under a certain length. As a result of wearing the baggy uniforms and follow strict rules of how to wear my hair for years, I had to learn what my personal style of clothing is and how to express myself through hair and makeup after I came to college. A common phenomenal for young Chinese students, but way too late compared to weatern students of the same age. 

Another example of collectivism versus individualism shown through Chinese schools is students are not encouraged to express their opinions as much as western students do. In my school, classes are much more quieter than in western schools. Students who speak up without raising their hands in class are seen as rude and disrespectful to the teachers. Teachers expect students to participate, but participate as in give the answer to the question posted on the blackboard or read a paragraph from the textbook article. A lot of the times, teachers also like to call on students one by one,  making sure they understand the materials and paying attention to the class. Teachers rarely asks students’ opinions on an article in the homework or analyse a film viewed in class, therefore, there are not a lot of chances for students to express personal opinions and ideas. Whereas the Western school system encourages individualism, and therefore values and promotes students to have personal opinions and ideas, and have platforms for them to express them. 

School systems are heavily influenced by a society’s culture, if one society tend to value something more, it will be reflected through its school system. For Eastern society, students in school prioritize collectivism more because it is the mainstream culture in eastern countries, where the sense of order (respect to teachers), community and belonging are very important. 
-Mengshu Ye
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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