In December, Lance W. Ozier, senior literacy specialist for the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA), spoke at the 2014 Beijing Academy Seminar, an annual event to bring experts in project-based and deeper learning initiatives to China to enhance the Chaoyang District’s efforts in these areas. Part of the Chaoyang District, Beijing Academy is one of many new public schools in China implementing various curricula focused on 21st century learning skills and non-cognitive learning models.

This major shift in China’s approach to education has been in part sparked by the release of Yong Zhao’s book titled Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao, born and educated in China, is an internationally known scholar, author, and speaker. In Diane Ravitch’s New York Review of Books summary of Zhao’s work, she says Zhao tells readers that, “China has the best education system because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism.”

The 2014 Beijing Academy Seminar focused on Zhao’s book. Ozier was one of ten presenters and co-presenters who spoke at the two-day seminar. Approximately 100 Chaoyang district leaders and school administrators attended the event. “Future-oriented learning environments,” which could enable lifelong learning and “student-centered learning styles” were common topics of the speakers. Ozier advised attendees on how to implement these two kinds of curricula with students, including the necessary training and support for teachers, and ideas for measuring 21st century learning outcomes. Specifically, he mentioned ETS’ SuccessNavigator, which assesses non-cognitive learning factors important for academic achievement.

When asked what the key takeaway from the seminar was, Ozier answered, “The Chinese see the American school system as including a pedagogy that encourages innovation and creativity. The United States sees China as outpacing them because of results on international tests, such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). It’s an interesting paradox with both countries trying to be more like each other educationally.”

In his book, Zhao warns that the United States should not seek to emulate the Confucian tradition of rote learning, a learning style based on memorization and repetition that is thousands of years old. Instead, educators should strive for deeper learning that is student-centric, and includes an inquiry-based learning approach like the one ISA schools have successfully implemented for years.