I had an experience of the strict exam-oriented education in my high school in China. The three-year learning, especially the third-year study, was mainly for the college-entrance exam. To improve our exam skills and abilities, the teachers required us to take a mock test every two weeks during our last semester. My whole learning content was subject to the exam scope and paid a lot of effort on improving the exam skills. My experience may not represent all kinds of learning experiences in high schools in China, but I guess many students have experienced different levels of exam-oriented education during their middle school study.
The exam-oriented education mode does provide a fair environment and equal opportunity for students from different families with distinct backgrounds, and it is feasible in evaluating the education results among various areas (e.g. rural and urban areas). Personally, I benefit from this education system in terms of advanced problem solving skills (since our math class is very difficult), perseverance, hardiness, resilience, self-control and ambition.
However, this system has its flaws apparently. The most obvious one is that exam-oriented education lacks critical-thinking training, because there is always a “correct” answer to an exam question. And the mindset of looking for the right answer is ingrained into students’ mind. As a result, students are not comfortable and are less likely to propose innovative solutions and challenge textbooks or their teachers.
I think that any education system has its two sides. The same is true for the competence-oriented education. If it is so difficult to challenge the education system, as an educator, I will try my best to focus on students’ need and stimulate them to learn with passion and grit.