Jiàoyù, jiàoyù, jiàoyù*
Flicking though the TV channels the other evening in search of something suitably engrossing to detain me, I paused long enough to hear a snatch of an interview with Eddie Braben who wrote for Morecambe and Wise on the days when the nation almost in its entirety settled down in front of their Christmas Day specials.
Braben said in this piece that the line he wrote for Eric Morecambe ( I won't rehearse the entire sketch) ' I am playing all the right notes - but not necessarily in the right order' was - with Morecambe's inspired delivery of it of course - probably the most perfect one he had ever created.
Sir John Major hasn't quite got to Eric's unique status as a national treasure - though his appearances around the Olympics and credit for the Lottery contribution to national success then may have him edging that way. Nor - despite his family heritage - has he ever rated as a major entertainer. But he may just have been channelling Morecambe when he was asked about Tony Blair's oft repeated policy priorities of ' Education, education, education'. Major said that be broadly agreed but he might just quibble over the order.
All of which leads me more than a little incongruously to time spent recently with a group of school principals from Shanghai here to gain some insight into best practice in education and training in England. The teachers and school managers have spent time in a number of schools and further education facilities across the region.
Getting all of the notes in the right order - getting priorities right - is the one that preoccupies educationalists both here and in China. Speaking to Chinese teachers and engaging with them in question and answer sessions throws up both similarities and contrasts with the pressures on education and schools here in the UK.
Until recently the schools education system in China has been very much geared to what is known as the 'general test' - the examination which counts for university entrance. Taken simultaneously over a couple of days in June it gave rise to an education system very much dominated by the task of securing the highest score on the examination. Critics of the system inside China have been concerned for some time about the emphasis on learning by rote that it creates and also by the extent to which it fails to develop critical thinking and analysis and a capacity for ' finding out for yourself' among students.
In terms of policy in China there is the beginning of a move to a less centralised system of educational progression and an education process that develops greater self reliance among students and pilot schemes with this focus have been implemented.
However, discussing the key issues facing these principals as they visited King Edwards High School in Birmingham however it was difficult to avoid an impression that they saw their major challenge as still being one of attracting the best and most motivated students ( and families) to their schools so that the schools performance in the examination hierarchy - and their own careers - were secure.
Visiting the Burton and South Derbyshire College, it was clear that the principals found the focus on vocational training exemplified there - and the importance placed in strong links between education and training and business - particularly intriguing. Vocational training in China is something of a Cinderella activity both undervalued and underfunded
However the aspirations to move up the value chain in international economic terms will place am increasing demand. Vocational training stands high in the national policy agenda in China but one gets the sense that parents there see it as a second best option for their own children ( or to be more precise given the one-child policy - their child).
The sense that the aims and aspirations of educational policy makers in China are not wholly aligned with the values and perceptions of those at the 'chalkface' and in the classroom has some strong resonances with the seemingly perpetual debate here in England and present the question of whether in either situation there is even agreement on which are the right notes - much less the right order to play them.
However, the presence of the Shanghai group in the area itself highlights the growing willingness within China to look internationally to learn and as importantly to look to build lasting partnerships around the enhancement of its educational system. And in developing curriculum, training teachers and enhancing quality systems there are not just intellectual but commercial relationships and export earnings to be secured.
Blair's old mantra rendered into Chinese is 'jiàoyù, jiàoyù, jiàoyù' - it seems it could be a real springboard for opportunity selling UK educational services into China.
*Education, education, education ( in pinyin)