In a recent opinion article from The New Republic, Martha Nussbaum, a professor from the University of Chicago, makes sweeping allegations about the nature and influence of education in China and Singapore. She castigates folks like President Obama who have heaped praise on these two countries' education systems, which -- as Obama stated -- prepare students not only for university studies but also for "a career."
Nussbaum's main beef seems to be that there is far too much rote learning/learning for the test at the heart of both country's systems. She goes on to describe how such learning may produce model citizens and cogs in a national economic machine but not critically thinking individuals. In fact, her central concluding idea is that anyone who believes an education system should foster independent thinking and pluralistic, democratic ideals should not look to China and Singapore as models but to Korea (which, by the way, has one of the highest per capita rates of suicide in the world).
As I read the Nussbaum article I had my doubts not just about her central thesis but also about some of the author's supporting anecdotes. She quotes, for example, a Singapore university teacher of communications, one who has supposedly since left Singapore, saying that when the person was discussing the issue of libel and critiques of the government with students, they became stiff and fearful: "I can feel the fear in the room. …You can cut it with a knife."
This contradicts my own experience in the university classroom in Singapore, where I have heard students openly present critiques of everything from their classmates' work to the workings of the university.
Of course, I don't share the same experience as students who have gone through the Chinese or Singaporean education systems from young. So I wonder what those of you who did might think. Here is the link to the Nussbaum article. Let me know your thoughts.