BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Chinese schools have to get their students to be creative and think for themselves, Premier Wen Jiabao told officials, in reference to the rote-learning deeply ingrained in the national education system.
Students in China perform well in exams and tests in which they are required to memorize answers, but rate less well in creativity and critical thinking, hampering the country's ambitions to move its economy up the value chain.
"Students don't only need knowledge; they have to learn how to act, to use their brains," Wen told a meeting on July 13 in a lengthy speech carried by the official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday.
"As Einstein said, imagination is more powerful that knowledge."
"We must encourage students to think independently, freely express themselves, get them to believe in themselves, protect and stimulate their imagination and creativity," Wen said.
Other countries in Asia, including Singapore and Japan, have struggled to address similar problems in education systems which stress exam results and conformity.
China's ruling Communist Party keeps a tight grip on what can be taught in schools and allows no dissent on sensitive subjects like Taiwan and Tibet, suggesting any change in policy would be hard to enact and fraught with difficulties.
Wen did not suggest how Chinese schools were supposed to alter their teaching methods to encourage freer thinking, but said education reform was vital if the country was to get rich.
"A first-rate country can only be built with first-rate education and first-rate talent," he said.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski