Nordic-Chinese Intersections on Education

Editors: Xiangyun Du*, Haiqin Liu**, Fred Dervin**

Affiliation: *Aalborg University, Denmark **University of Helsinki, Finland

China and the Nordic countries are often contrasted by the media, but also by researchers and by decision-makers. The example of Finland is quite telling in this sense: both Shanghai and Finland are outperforming many other countries in the OECD PISA studies and have been lauded for their excellent performances. However, the two places are often depicted as being two extreme opposites in terms of educational and pedagogical practices. Many of the comparisons that one reads about these two places are often stereotypical and essentialist – Can Shanghai represent the whole of China? Are all schools and students the same in the city? Are they all better at rote learning than autonomous learning? Etc. One could easily ask similar questions about Finland.

Under the impact of globalization, the past decade has witnessed a growth of interaction and intersection between China and the Nordic countries in many and varied educational fields, including joint research, publications and mobility initiatives at different educational levels. Due to the request of stimulating innovation in education from the Chinese government, educational institutions in China are willing to borrow ‘good’ practices from the Nordic countries, which are known for placing equality and social justice at the core of most societal issues. Furthermore, an increasing number of PhD projects are also being conducted on different aspects of Chinese education from the perspectives of the Nordic countries and vice versa. A few research projects are being carried out on mobility programs for Chinese students studying in Nordic countries and vice versa. This rise of mutual interests thus calls for attention in educational studies.

In order to obtain a broader view on educational studies concerning mutual perspectives between China and Nordic countries, this volume thus proposes a ‘snapshot’ of research about education that is currently being done in the Nordic countries and in China, through their respective mirror – see the idea of intersection in the title of the volume. The editors and authors reject an approach that presents both geographical spaces as culturally uniform or ‘confronting’ big entities such as ‘East’ and ‘West’. They suggest a comparative/contrastive approach – the Nordic countries and China ‘side by side’ – that is critical and reflexive theoretically and methodologically and takes into account e.g. similarities in education, rather than concentrating on differences only.

The volume includes studies on philosophical, conceptual and methodological issues, as well as micro-level empirical studies. It is composed of 15 chapters, an introduction, a conclusion and one or two commentary chapter(s), written by researchers and scholars from China and the Nordic countries. The book is divided into three interrelated sections: 1. Nordic-Chinese intersections: Conceptual and methodological aspects; 2. Experiencing each other’s education; 3. Transnational cooperation in education: Policies and practices.


Absent in China’s Modernisation? A historical critique of Nordic-Chinese exchanges in education

Ren-Jie Lin [1], Assistant Professor, Centre for Teacher Education, National Taiwan University of Sport

Chi-Yang Chung, Assistant Professor, Centre for Teacher Education, National Taiwan University of Sport

Ge Wei, PhD candidate, Centre for Research on Activity, Development and Learning, University of Helsinki

Studies tracing back the history of the position of the West in China’s modernisation since the late nineteenth century have been increasingly published. It is shown that China’s learning journey from the West shifted from the single purpose of the military-learning-oriented approach to the multi-dimensions of Western knowledge since the late nineteenth century, including technologies, sciences, politics, economics, literature, education, and other items. However, it seems that the Nordic countries represent a missing piece in the scholarship on the history of China’s modernisation. In fact, it can be traced up to the twentieth century that China’s initiative knowledge about the Nordic countries was based on the cultural interaction between China and Russia. Subsequently, the interaction between China and the Nordic countries has been expanding frequently in a couple of decades ago through study abroad, economic trade, cultural exchanges and the like.

This chapter is an intellectual endeavor to inquire the “missing” educational interaction between China and the Nordic countries from a historical perspective. The first aim of the chapter is to explore when and how China began to expand its interactions with the Nordic countries in modern times and the second one is why China had more and more exchanges with the Nordic countries in the last decades. Data from national chronicles in China, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway will be employed to answer these two questions. Finally, the contributions of these educational and cultural interactions between China and the Nordic countries will be discussed.

Beyond the comparative method in educational research? Leaving the East and West dichotomy behind

Jin Hui Li,  Aalborg University, Denmark

 In the studies of students’ subjectivities in educational cooperation between the Nordic countries and China (e.g. the Sino-Danish Center) there is a need to explore the processes of subjectivation by focusing on how the students’ subjectivities are shaped rather than to find explanations through comparative methods, as these methods can give rather simplified answers to the complexities of such an educational space (as in Biggs, 1996; Singh & Sproats, 2004; Tan, Mcinerney, & Liem, 2008; Watkins, 2008). The comparative approach tends to keep the analytical lenses on preserving the dichotomy between the West (represented by the Nordic countries) and the East (represented by China). Hence, the aim of the chapter is to create a framework beyond the comparative approaches (e.g. studies such as Bereday, 1964; Green, Preston, & Janmaat, 2006) that enables an illumination of the complexities of the processes of education based on transnational cooperation. The framework is an ‘architecture’ building on the situated approach (e.g. Clark & Gieve, 2006; Gu & Schweisfurth, 2006), the concept of translocal governmentality (Ong, 1999) and Popkewitz’s deconstruction of the ideal of cosmopolitanism in 20th century schooling (2012). In this framework, the educational space is seen as an emerging space that provides different subject position opportunities to different students rather than attributing their subjectivities to a certain nationality.

Danish-Chinese Intersections on Education for the Gifted and Talented

Annette Rasmussen

 Global education policies are widely aimed at both inclusion and excellence; sometimes these aims are combined in order to cater to the needs of those considered particularly talented. In Denmark the latter has come about as an explicit policy objective since 2011, when a government-requested report on talent development in the educational system was published. While setting up special programs for the gifted and talented is a recent phenomenon in the Nordic countries with strong traditions for an un-streamed comprehensive school, China has had middle school gifted education classes for several decades.

This paper explores what underlying assumptions about excellence in education are expressed in such curricular provisions for the ‘gifted and talented’. By focusing on selected programs for gifted and talented students in Denmark and China it aims to understand what terms of giftedness and talents are implied in the local policies, when aiming to identify and develop the talents of particular student groups. The general aim is to identify Danish-Chinese intersections on education policies for the gifted and talented and understand their local particularities. Thus departing in and relating to global policies of education in this area, the national practices of ‘gifted and talented’ policies also remain national and localized, reflecting and affecting differing dispositions.

Data on selected programs in China consist of articles from the Beijing Daily, available online, and research publications on the topic, while data on the programs in Denmark consist of the above-mentioned government report and data from local projects on talent development in school, in which the author did follow-up research. The analysis applies distinctions on talent originating from different models of talent, distinguishing between individual performances versus potentials, critical states and exceptional performances, nature and nurture, and between identifying by subjecting individuals to objective measurement versus normative judgment shaped by culture.


How Chinese National Primary Science Curriculum supports 21st century competences learning

Yan Wang, Jari Lavonen, Kirsi Tirri       University of Helsinki, Finland

To respond to the development of science and technology, globalization and social demands in the 21st century, the goals and ways of teaching science have been redefined. Many organizations and countries have tried to articulate new goals for education generally referring to 21st century competences. Although no single international definition or framework has been developed, there are common elements among various explanations. But different organizations and countries put weight on different elements in terms of various cultures, traditions, and social and politico-economic challenges. Recently China published a ‘Nine Core Competences Proposal’ calling for educators’ comments. It will serve as the principle for education reform concerning demands in the 21st century. Even though there is no visible discourse of 21st century competences in Chinese science curriculum now, elements of 21st century competences, such as creativity and critical thinking, are to be found in the proposal. Our research aims at figuring out the emphasis of 21st century competences elements in the Chinese Science Curriculum from an international perspective instead of a Western-centred one. First, we articulate the connotation of 21st century competences by comparing and summarising different frameworks originating from ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ countries, for example, Asia Society and OECD. Second, we deductively analyse the Chinese National Primary Science Curriculum using the framework we developed. Last, we will discuss the culture-dependent and culture-invariant aspects of 21st century competences and how the curriculum reflects these competences compared to the discussion on curriculum in the Nordic countries.

Lutheranism in Nordic educational traditions and Confucianism in Chinese educational traditions: Possible impact on contemporary educational systems

Mette Buchardt, & Xiangyun Du, Aalborg University

Viewed as systems of mentality, Lutheran Christianity and Confucian Philosophy share the premise that they support and educate into respecting governing authorities, while at the same time educating into personal moral and work ethics. In the Nordic states, such as Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and the ‘Chinese states’, such as the People’s Republic of China and Singapore, both systems have played a central role in the creation of educational bodies and later national educational systems. In China (PRC) and Denmark (DK) for instance, this seems to have dissolved especially from the middle of the 20th century, with secularization under, respectively, communist rule (PRC) and social democratic rule (DK). However, both nation states have experienced a renaissance in the 1990s, whereby new interpretations of ‘Confucian values’ (PRC) and ideas of a ‘Christian Lutheran cultural heritage’ (DK) has reentered the educational scene.

Through an approach mixing history and philosophy of education, we propose a comparative educational analysis of how two different systems of mentality in two different states and geopolitical spheres have influenced the educational systems at present. We are also interested in how ideas of a Christian-Lutheran and a Confucian pedagogical heritage and past are used in educational politics and policy when dealing with global and social challenges.

The meanings of Multicultural education: Comparing Perspectives from China and Finland

Liu Xiaoxu & Fred Dervin, University of Helsinki

The process of globalisation inevitably brings together representatives of different groups and people.This is why scholars worldwide are increasingly interested in the phenomenon of multiculturalism and multicultural education. In today’s societies, multicultural education presents different races, genders,ethnic groups and social classes for the various needs of educational development and aims to promote diversity, quality for all and equity/equality. Multicultural education is a hot issue both in China and Finland, under different guises. In this paper, and considering the current increased collaboration between the two countries in education, we examine the similarities and differences in the meanings, aims and practices of multicultural education. This paper compares multicultural education in China with Finland at research, policy and practice levels, with the aim of distinguishing and learning from each other and fostering a cross-cultural dialogue between the two systems.


Narrative inquiry of Novice Chinese as Foreign Language (CFL) teachers’ experience and belief change in the Danish secondary school context

Li Wang, Aalborg University

This case study uses narrative inquiry to explore two novice Chinese as Foreign Language (CFL) teachers’ past experiences and their belief change in the Danish classroom in their early years of teaching. Participants were one male native Danish teacher and one female native Chinese teacher located in two Danish secondary schools. Data collection for this study occurred 18 months and included classroom observations, lesson plans, informal talks and audio-taped interviews. Data analysis proceeded in two phrases, a vertical analysis in which each teacher’s interview data, field notes, lesson plans were analyzed separately to identify their critical experiences and events, and a cross-case analysis was carried out in the second phase to look for common patterns as well as differences. This study reveals that the interplay between the working context, teachers’ personal experience, the mismatch between their expectations and classroom realities alongside with their reflective practice affects the development of teacher beliefs. Teachers started their teaching career with more teacher-oriented beliefs strongly rooted in their previous learning experiences and generally moved the focus away from teachers themselves to students with more integrated view of teaching and learning and more holistic view on learner. However, there are shifts of emphasis when faced with different students and academic and institutional requirements. In addition, teachers’ belief change is not a linear process, as the professional contexts and their prior conservative beliefs may constrain teachers’ developing into more student-oriented beliefs. There are some core beliefs about how language should be best taught and learned and teachers’ earlier schooling years remain resistant to change. The teachers’ narratives of past life histories, experience and belief change reinforce the need for supporting novice CFL teachers’ development and adapting to new work environment at their beginning teaching stage, as well as the fostering of caring, supportive work environments.

Chinese university leaders’ perceptions of effective professional development

Xin Xing, Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Finland

This chapter explores the perspective of two groups of Chinese university leaders on what they see as being effective professional development for educators like themselves.  The university leaders shared their experiences of spending time studying professional development on a tour of Finnish educational institutions and produced reflections of what they learned and thought about their experiences. The theoretical background is transnational higher education and critical reflectivity. This study interviewed 12 of these university leaders both during and following their experiences in China and Finland. Additionally other sources come from the learning reports of the university leaders and minutes of summary meetings. The data were analysed with content and thematic analysis. The analysis focussed upon the content of the training they received both in China and in Finland, the format and methods of the training they experienced, and finally some of the wider social issues that arose following their training in another country. I raise the question of whether the perceptions and reflections from these university leaders have implications for future leadership training in China as higher education institutions seek to modernise and bring their practices into line with standards that are becoming the norm in other parts of the world. Such focussed studies assist in evaluating the purpose and outcome of investment in such training programmes which are becoming frequent but whose outcomes are often unclear.


What drives Chinese students to study abroad? Push and pull factors and motivations of mainland Chinese student in Finland

Li Hanwei  University of Tampere, Finland

Since the late 1990s, economic growth in China and the internationalization of higher education have contributed to increasing academic mobility between China and the Nordic countries. Within the context of increasing cross-border flows of Chinese students, this paper examines the case of mainland Chinese students in Finland. The paper presents findings of a Marie Curie study focusing on the following questions: What motivates mainland Chinese students to study in Finland? Are the Chinese students satisfied with their study experiences? The data were collected in autumn 2015 by interviewing 30 mainland Chinese students who are studying either in Finnish universities or universities of applied sciences. The paper starts by reviewing the literature on push and pull factors from both sending and receiving country perspectives with a reference to student mobility. It then discusses Chinese students’ motivations to study in Finland. The paper shows that the flows of mainland Chinese students are driven by push and pull factors. In the Finnish case, free tuition, flexible study programs, international study environment, and an opportunity to travel are the most important pull factors. Among the push factors there are the fierce competition among prestigious Chinese higher education programs, recommendations by close friends, relatives or agencies, and early or mid-career crises. While the majority of students are satisfied with their study experiences in Finland, a number of challenges and concerns appears, such as difficulties in learning Finnish language and establishing social network with local people. Recommendations for improvement include offering better Finnish language courses, open intercultural communication courses, facilitating classroom participation, and providing career guidance for international students.

Nordic scholars’ experiences of Chinese higher education: A critical intercultural perspective

Fred Dervin & Anu Härkönen, University of Helsinki, Finland

This chapter examines the experiences of Nordic scholars based at Chinese institutions of higher education. Although research on Chinese students in the Nordic countries and Nordic students in China have begun to emerge, there is, to our knowledge no research on the experience of Nordic scholars in China. Based on focus groups with several such scholars we use a critical intercultural approach to analyse the ways they perceive, co-construct and discuss Chinese higher education and their actors. We are also very much interested in the comparisons made between this context and the Nordic context. What ideologies do such comparisons contain? What do they tell us about the scholars’ intercultural attitudes? The data are analysed by means of a dialogically informed type of discourse analysis.

Keywords: Nordic scholars, voices, comparison, higher education

III Transnational cooperation in education: Policies and practices

Comparing doctoral education in China and Finland: An institutional logics perspective

Gaoming Zheng  University of Tampere, Finland

Wenqin Shen   Peking University, China

Jussi Kivistö,  University of Tampere, Finland

Yuzhuo Cai  University of Tampere, Finland

Doctoral education provision is both a key component in higher education system and a basis for pursuing research excellence. In recent years, doctoral education has gained a central place in higher education reforms worldwide and many countries tend to enhance their doctoral education through international collaboration and benchmarking of best practices. Such phenomena can also be observed in the cases of China and Finland. While there is a vast volume of literature on the latest developments in Chinese and Finnish doctoral education respectively, it is rare to find studies comparing the two systems, especially with an attempt to explore the traditions, norms and values underlying them. Even though there is a big contrast between the Finnish doctoral education system and Chinese doctoral education system regarding the size, we believe the traditions, norms and values underlying the systems are comparable. Our paper tries to fill the gap by analysing and comparing both countries’ doctoral education systems from the institutional logics’ perspectives. Particularly, we raise two research questions: 1) What are the institutional logics behind the doctoral education systems in China and Finland? 2) To what extent the doctoral education systems and underlying institutional logics in the two countries are similar/different and compatible? A qualitative case study approach will be employed to seek for the answers to the research questions, and thus qualitative data, including interview data, relevant academic literature and policy documents, will be taken into consideration. Collected data will be analysed through the theoretical lens of institutional theory, or more specific, institutional logics perspective. The answers to the questions may help up better understand the state-of-art of doctoral education and particularly the normative bases, and in turn improve policy and practices in doctoral education. The conclusions may also be useful for the stakeholders of both countries (including governments, higher education institutions, practitioners) to optimise their strategies and practices in future doctoral education collaboration.

Towards joint/double degrees between Chinese and Nordic (Finnish) universities: Reflections from the case of MARIHE programme

Yuzhuo Cai   University of Tampere, Finland

Baocun Liu  Beijing Normal University, China

While both China and Nordic countries, have the common interests in enhancing cooperation in higher education, including develop joint and double degrees, the path towards that end is uneasy. This study examines the challenges in developing joint or double degree between Chinese and Finnish universities by take example the development of an Erasmus Mundus joint Master’s degree courses–the Master’s Course in Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MARIHE). The MARIHE programme, implemented since 2012, is the first Erasmus Mundus joint degree programme with a Chinese university as a (potential) degree granting partner. The other three cooperation partner institutions are respectively from Finland, Austria and Germany. Although the programme is heading for issuing joint or dual degrees with Chinese partner university, in practice the goal has not been achieved yet due to a number of obstacles at both the policy and institutional levels. The analysis in this paper goes about these challenges from the perspectives of practitioners involved in the programme planning and operation, and mainly focuses on the following issues: the legislation barriers in China and Finland, compatibility of programme management between Chinese and Finnish universities, and complexity in curriculum development in joint courses.  Regardless of our particular focus on challenges, we also discuss possible solutions and envision potential positive scenarios. The study is data driven and main sources of data include 1) document, e.g. national legislations and policies, 2) literature, e.g. academic publications related to Sino-foreign joint degrees, 3) the authors own experiences as key actors implementing the MARIHE programme, and 4) interviews with other key practitioners and relevant stakeholders of the programme.

The Complementary Advantages of Chinese and Nordic Universities: A Case Study of an English-taught Programme at Beijing Normal University

Baocun Liu, Jun Teng, Min Liu, Qiang Liu

Beijing Normal University, China

Both China and Nordic countries have a long history of higher education, with many universities and degree programs well-known to the outside world. Owing to their close academic relations and common interests in cooperation, there appeared many successful stories of the Sino-Nordic cooperation in higher education. This study examines the experiences as well as problems and challenges in developing a joint English-taught programme at Beijing Normal University. In collaboration with the Institute of International Education, Stockholm University, the International and Comparative Education Research Institute, Beijing Normal University launched an International MA program in Comparative Education in 2011 and PhD program in Comparative Education in 2013. These programs are pioneer English-taught programmes in the field of education, based on the rich experiences and international resources of the universities. According to the surveys, the students are satisfied with the programs and their experiences at the universities. But the programs are still facing with some difficulties and new challenges. The study also puts forward some policy suggestions at both the state and university levels to improve the programs.

Ideologies and Chinese language education in Finland

Haiqin Liu        University of Helsinki, Finland

Prue Holmes   University of Durham, UK

The past decade has witnessed an increasing interest in learning Chinese language (mainly Mandarin) across the world (Du & Kirkebæk, 2012; Wang, 2009; Zhu & Li, 2014). Finland is no exception in responding to this global trend. While there is a vast volume of literature on Chinese as a second language in different contexts, it is rare to find such studies in Finland, especially studies approaching Chinese language education from the ideological perspectives. This study looks into ideologies of Chinese through analysing societal and educational discourses about Chinese language in the Finnish context. Drawing on critical discourse analysis (Van Dijk, 1993, 2003; Fairclough 2003; Wodak 2001) and the “analysis of multivoiceness” (Aveling, Gillespie & Cornish, 2014, originated from Bakhtin’s dialogism), discourses about Chinese language as presented in two main news outlets in Finland, educational policy documents, interviews and focus group discussions with coordinators of Chinese language projects and teachers, survey with parents and learners, are explored. The aim of this study is to find out how ideologies surrounding the Chinese language are constructed and reproduced in Finnish society and how the discursive output of these ideologies contributes to the current position of Chinese language education in Finland. Insights from the analysis can shed light on why it is that Chinese language education in Finland exists in the state that it does now, as well as the stance that Finnish policy is taking in the global community. The results of this study may be useful for further studies of Chinese language in Finland, and for policy makers and stakeholders when planning the future development of Chinese language education in Finland.

A contrastive study of the Teaching of Chinese as a Second Language in Sweden and in China

Xinzheng Wan, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

The teaching of Chinese has witnessed a rapid growth in Sweden in recent years. With the issuing of its new syllabus, Chinese has officially become one of the second foreign languages taught in Swedish schools. Teaching of Chinese at university’s level has also been expanding steadily. The University of Lund even began to offer bachelor degree courses in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language (TCSL) in 2014, which is the first of its kind in the history in Sweden. More and more teaching and research staff in Chinese are being recruited all around the country. At the same time, all the main universities in Sweden that have majors in Chinese send their students to stay in China for a few months and to study Chinese at different universities in China on a regular basis, which opens a perfect window for us to see the similarities and differences between the two countries in education, especially in the field of the teaching Chinese as a second language. By studying the Swedish students that have studied in Chinese universities during the school year 2014/15, we analyze and compare the two education systems in terms of syllabus, teaching materials, teaching methodologies, etc., with the hope to provide some inspirations for the future cooperation in education between the two countries.

Contemporary Sino-Danish internationalization strategies in relation to the understanding of interculturality

Niels Erik Lyngdorf, Aalborg University, Denmark

This chapter examines current Danish internationalization strategies and initiatives for developing interculturality through student mobility programs with China in higher education. By interrogating official policies for internationalization, the paper gives attention to contemporary conditions for Danish universities to develop and facilitate student mobility with China at a structural political level. It is argued that policies, developed and formulated at a national political level, presuppose and favor certain meanings of internationalization and culture and in doing so also contextualize the understanding of the development of interculturality in a limiting sense. Research in the fields of culture and intercultural communication have problematized the perils of stereotyping and “Othering” inherent in traditional concepts of culture and stressed the need for moving beyond and forward to a more constructivist approach. Educational aims, informed by policies on internationalization, guiding institutions and implementors in Denmark, need to be clear and rid of conflicting discourses in order to create a meaningful and strong basis for developing intercultural competences at a student level. The discussion on this topic is further examined in relation to general tendencies of the current educational paradigm in Denmark and the more general discussion on knowledge and competence based education. Content analysis of key policy documents will be employed.