Why Do Azerbaijani Schools Teach English and Not Mandarin Chinese?
Nicholas Kristof’s article about the progress of Chinese schools, unbeknownst to the author, lays out a fairly neat argument for why Azerbaijani schools should, if not exactly teach the Mandarin Chinese language, at least adopt a similar approach to their Far Eastern neighbors. There are two passages that struck me as particularly relevant to Azerbaijan’s current education system:
Granted, Shanghai’s rise to the top of the global charts is not representative of all China, for Shanghai has the country’s best schools. Yet it’s also true that China has made remarkable improvements in the once-awful schools in peasant areas.
Just 20 years ago, children often dropped out of elementary school in rural areas. Teachers sometimes could barely speak standard Mandarin, which, in theory, is the language of instruction.
These days, even in backward rural areas, most girls and boys alike attend high school. College isn’t unusual. And the teachers are vastly improved.
That 20-years-ago China rings true to Azerbaijan’s current state of education. Many students drop out early, some girls for teen marriages. In English classes, the teachers often don’t speak English. The second particularly relevant passage:
Many Chinese complain scathingly that their system kills independent thought and creativity, and they envy the American system for nurturing self-reliance — and for trying to make learning exciting and not just a chore.
In Xian, I visited Gaoxin Yizhong, perhaps the city’s best high school, and the students and teachers spoke wistfully of the American emphasis on clubs, arts and independent thought. “We need to encourage more creativity,” explained Hua Guohong, a chemistry teacher. “We should learn from American schools.”
Learning is certainly a chore in Azerbaijan. Independent thought isn’t on anyone’s list of priorities. Creativity is hard to find. Many Peace Corps Volunteers in schools do clubs outside of their classes that could cover anything from games to crafts to American culture. Those clubs are an opportunity to offer students a release from the rote memorization of the English language’s grammar rules.
I can’t speak for China’s schools (maybe this guy can?) but Azerbaijan appears to have problems that China has dealt with in the past and are currently trying to find solutions for. The culture of education is lost here (ask any Azerbaijani over the age of 40) and creativity is not encouraged (ask any PCV). As far as I know, officially, Azerbaijan is instituting more effective, interactive teaching methods in classrooms, but adoption is low, and most teachers just end up reverting back to the rote memorization methods.