PRISM Magazine - Exploring the future of engineering education

China's New Engineering Obstacle

Chen Lixin

A Chinese professor highlights the challenges his country faces as it attempts to prepare its engineering education system for the future.globe - china

The rapid developments of a global economy will demand that future engineering students receive a multi-dimensional education that gives them the opportunity to apply their knowledge and solve practical problems, as well as to prepare them to independently explore new scientific and technological fields. As a professor at a Chinese engineering university, I believe several limitations in our educational system have restricted the development of college students' creative abilities for about 10 years. These shortcomings include passive teaching methods, obsolete teaching content and materials, and narrow course structures.

The traditional teaching method is predominantly made up of class lectures that contribute to excessive student dependence on their teachers and a lack of independent study skills. Professors generally lecture without pausing and do not allow time for students to participate. This passive learning environment hinders the development of college students' potential. Students can mechanically memorize lectures and readings but cannot use this knowledge to solve basic problems. Naturally, this teaching method results in the phenomenon of high scores and low ability.

In the 1990s, science and technology have developed so rapidly that new materials and equipment are emerging constantly. The majority of our students, however, are still using the textbooks that I used as a second-year college student 12 years ago. How can these students solve the practical problems of today by using the antiquated knowledge of yesterday? Furthermore, we spend more time teaching theory than on experimentation, which makes it very difficult for students to apply theory to practice.

At present, we only emphasize students' studies in their specific fields, without building a broad basis of development and research methods. This is because teachers who received a traditional education do not have a general education structure. Frontier sciences will develop rapidly in the 21st century and China needs versatile engineers with creative abilities if we are to compete. If we continue to educate our students with this rigid and obsolete course structure, they will hardly fit the needs of social progress, and are doomed to be eliminated by competition.

I have several suggestions on how we can reform China's existing educational system:

Reform teaching content and strengthen students' creative abilities.

    Teachers should introduce the new developments of domestic and correlative specialties, thereby emphasizing the link between basic theory and the science and technology frontiers.

Introduce students to a scientific learning method.

    This will allow them to independently acquire knowledge and skills by posing questions and reading references. It will also improve their ability to solve practical problems.

Modify the teaching plan.

    We should widen the scope of available courses and add some innovative ones, such as creative psychology.

Speed up educational modernization.

    This includes incorporating audio-visual programs and computer assistance with traditional teaching methods and systems.

Improve teachers' working conditions and training.

    "Whether a university can cultivate quality talents for socialism; enable the students to develop morally, intellectually, and physically; and train workers with both socialist consciousness and culture or not, the key is teachers," said Comrade Deng Xiaoping. Teachers are the most important factor in a successful educational system and must be encouraged and organized to implement the new strategies. We must first devise a strategic plan to aid in their continual teaching and ideological progressions. Also, the university should improve teachers' working and living conditions by periodically increasing their salaries and material.

We must also strengthen the ideological education among teachers by teaching them to love their educational undertakings and teaching posts, to acquire a scientific outlook, and to serve the people wholeheartedly. Finally, while our younger teachers have modern professional skills and knowledge, including proficiency in foreign languages and computers, we need to encourage the older teachers to guide their younger peers by sharing their experience and basic professional knowledge.

The times require reform of university's educational ideas, model, and structure. Only if we eliminate unfavorable factors in our educational system and reform it completely can we win in the next century's competition.


Chen Lixin is an engineering professor at Northwestern Polytechnical University, Xian, China.

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