University Of Tasmania
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Why do Chinese students out-perform those from the West? Do approaches to learning contribute to the explanation?

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 23:20 authored by David KemberDavid Kember
One of the major current issues in education is the question of why Chinese and East Asian students are outperforming those from Western countries. Research into the approaches to learning of Chinese students revealed the existence of intermediate approaches, combining memorising and understanding, which were distinct from rote learning. At the time, research into the paradox of the Chinese learner was content to establish that the approaches were not consistent with a surface approach and there was, therefore, no reason to anticipate the inferior learning outcomes associated with the approach. This article takes the analysis further to discuss whether the intermediate approaches could be advantageous for academic performance and could contribute to the superior performance, especially in mathematics, of Chinese students. Learning approaches are re-formulated as a continuum between pure surface and deep poles characterised by the presence of understanding and memorisation in the intention and strategy and in the sequence of their use. Evidence is presented of more frequent use by East Asian students of the approaches in the centre of the continuum which make the most use of meaningful memorisation, particularly when it precedes understanding. It is, therefore, possible that East Asian students are more likely to have memorised a knowledge base which enables them to perform better in comparative testing.


Publication title

Cogent Education

Article number









Faculty of Education


Cogent OA

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

© 2016 The Author(s). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Learner and learning not elsewhere classified