The new program could disrupt Chinese universities' staid instructional approach.
Photograph by WANG ZHAO AFP/Getty Images
By Polina Marinova
December 5, 2017

Chinese education has traditionally measured student success through standardized test scores and students’ abilities to play by the rules. Now the rules to the game are changing.

The modern economy is driven by creativity, innovation, and disruption. One way China is preparing its students for this new reality is by paying U.S. universities—better known for encouraging free-wheeling thought—to teach Chinese lecturers how to make their students more creative.

“Once again, America is going to teach China how to compete with America,” joked George Yip, a marketing and strategy professor at Imperial College London.

A panel at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech International Conference on Tuesday led a discussion around how China’s education system must adapt to cultivate future entrepreneurs. The conversation quickly pivoted to the notion of individualism versus collaboration in building thriving companies.

“We have to remember that companies do not need to be built by a single individual, but by teams, the members of which have different characteristics,” Yip said. “Today, you need a technical guy, a business person, and a rule-breaker.”

Yip quickly made a distinction, however. Teams in China aren’t necessarily equal: they often revolve around one dominant player, usually the rule-breaker. “The Chinese team system is built around the boss,” he said.

Rule-breaking is not a practice often encouraged in schools in the West or in China. “In China, teacher knows best and students and parents must follow,” said Lenora Chu, the author of Little Soldiers. “I don’t think rule-breaking will be learned in the classroom.”

Ted Snyder, the dean of Yale Business School, echoed the sentiments, adding that team building is not a “skill” that can be taught within the confines of a school. Instead, it requires diversity of thought by consciously bringing together people from radically different backgrounds.

“Rather than putting six people on the same team, we have the team change,” he said. “Success means that we have to break out from our tendencies to hang out with people who are just like us.”

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