The Dilemma of Time: Student-Centered Teaching in the Rural Classroom in China

Jan. 15, 2011

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 27, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 157-164.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Studies in other countries have reported that time plays a significant role in teachers’ decisions about teaching methods. Student-centered teaching tend to be more time-consuming and unpredictable than whole-class lecturing and teachers working under a fixed curriculum and schedule are inclined to organize the class in a more teacher-centered manner to secure completion of required tasks ([Alexander, 2000] and [Kennedy, 2005]).

China has been promoting a reform in its curriculum and pedagogy toward in the recent decade.
This reform encourages diverse teaching strategies at the ground level, but maintains the centralized curriculum standards and a national timetable. In rural areas where students lag far behind their urban counterparts in academic performance, the introduction of more complex class activities in the teaching process may exert even higher pressure on time.

Therefore, this research article will investigate
1) how this curriculum reform influences rural teachers’ experience of lesson time, and
2) whether and how their concerns over time advance or hinder the promotion of student-centered teaching in rural areas.

Data were collected through ethnographic observation and interviews in Chaoyang Elementary School.


This study supports the findings in the literature that time is a crucial factor for teachers’ pedagogical decisions.

The study highlights the dilemma of time as the key to understanding rural teachers’ persistence in tight control of the class.
Chinese rural teachers in the study are reluctant to adopt the new student-centered teaching methods because these new methods are more time-consuming and unpredictable than lecturing. Rural teachers in China are working under a national curriculum and schedule. The curriculum standards are set too high and the schedule too fast for poor-performing rural students.

Therefore, rural teachers are in daily struggles to complete the basic content of the textbooks within the fixed schedule. The whole-class lecturing allows teachers to maintain the control of teaching pace and thus better secures completion of the textbooks than student-centered methods.
The rural teachers continue with whole-class lecturing and rote learning because they have to protect themselves from potential blames for their failure to cover the necessary content within the fixed timeframe.

The author argues that the dilemma of time reflects both the cultural, economic, and educational inequalities between rural and urban children and the inherent contradictions within the reform itself, i.e. the conflict between the request for decentralized pedagogy and the persistence of a highly centralized curriculum and a fixed schedule.

Alexander, 2000 R. Alexander, Culture and pedagogy: International comparisons in primary education, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford (2000).

Kennedy, 2005 M. Kennedy, Inside teaching: How classroom life undermines reforms, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, England (2005).

Updated: Nov. 15, 2011