Opportunities and challenges of China’s inquiry-based education reform in middle and high schools: Perspectives of science teachers and teacher educators

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Abstract

Consistent with international trends, an emergent interest in inquiry-based science teaching and learning in K-12 schools is also occurring in China. This study investigates the possibilities for and the barriers to enactment of inquiry-based science education in Chinese schools. Altogether 220 Chinese science teachers, science teacher educators and researchers (primarily from the field of chemistry education) participated in this study in August 2001. Participants represented 13 cities and provinces in China. We administered two questionnaires, one preceding and one following a 3-hour presentation by a US science educator and researcher about inquiry-based teaching and learning theories and practices. In each of three sites in which the study was conducted (Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing), questionnaires were administered, and four representative participants were interviewed. Our coding and analysis of quantifiable questionnaire responses (using a Likert scale), of open-ended responses, and of interview transcripts revealed enthusiastic interest in incorporating inquiry-based teaching and learning approaches in Chinese schools. However, Chinese educators face several challenges: (a) the national college entrance exam needs to align with the goals of inquiry-based teaching; (b) systemic reform needs to happen in order for inquiry-based science to be beneficial to students, including a change in the curriculum, curriculum materials, relevant resources, and teacher professional development; (c) class size needs to be reduced; and (d) an equitable distribution of resources in urban and rural schools needs to occur.