A Chinese Approach to Learning? A Comparative Study on Time Use Patterns of 15-Year Old Students in PISA 2012


Under the influence of Confucianism, the Chinese society puts more emphasis on effort than on innate ability to account for academic success or failure. As time for learning is a strong indicator of effort, it is expected that Chinese students would spend longer time on learning than their peers in other educational systems. The time use pattern may be an important way to distinguish the Chinese education from educational traditions in other cultures. In this study, we analyze the time use patterns of 15-year-old students in 18 high-performing education systems in PISA 2012. The data show commonalities among four Chinese societies—Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, and Shanghai—that students in all four Chinese societies spend long hours on deliberate learning in school, with a focus on reading, mathematics, and science. This pattern distinguishes them from many OECD countries. Additionally, our analysis also reveals intracultural variation. Outside the regular school hours, students from Shanghai and Taiwan dedicate a considerable amount of time to out-of-school-time lessons. In particular, Shanghai students spend much more time on unguided homework, whereas in Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, more importance is given to guided homework and tutoring. In sum, our findings suggest that the Chinese tradition of effort-emphasizing learning approach continues in the modern time, sustained both in and out of school. The extra learning outside school, however, exhibits a new trend indicating the decline of parental guidance.

In Chou, C. P. and Spangler, J., editors, Chinese Education Models in a Global Age, Chapter (8)
Yisu Zhou
Associate Professor of Education Policy & Sociology

My research focus on sociology of education