Event ReportsPublished on Feb 15, 2013
It is interesting to note the accommodations that China made in its educational system to inspire its exponential growth in economic and defence capability. Its educational reforms aimed at transitioning China from a manufacturing hub to a leader in innovation. Today China has the largest network of primary education in the world.
Education in China: A drive for excellence

A significant part of the 21st century has been marked by China’s exponential growth in economic and defence capability. It was interesting to note the accommodations that China made in its educational system to inspire such a growth trajectory. Believing that education has a fundamental role to play in the development of a nation, Observer Research Foundation invited select experts in the field to discuss various aspects of ’Education in China’ at a seminar on February 8, 2013.

Before the situation in China was discussed, Dr Vimala Ramachandran of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration gave a brief overview of the global condition of the education sector and the specific problems that it faces. A brief outlook showed that the majority of the issues regarding education were centred on South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Ramachandran noted that economic status and the related parental education status is a crucial factor in understanding the rate of children’s enrolment and learning levels.

It was also pointed out that the number and quality of teachers is also a major cause for concern. As the social status of teachers, both in the developed and developing world, continues to decline, teaching is becoming a less attractive profession, especially as pay-scales do not match needs and expectations. Subsequently, the necessity to improve the state of higher education as a prerequisite for improved educational standards across the board was also discussed. Criticisms were also levelled against the linear progression of education structures worldwide. The lack of and nature of funding is also a global concern, Dr. Ramachandran pointed out.

China has ensured steady investment in all levels of educations, especially higher education, research and training. Reforms in China’s education aimed at transitioning China from a manufacturing hub to a leader in innovation. China today has the largest network of primary education in the world. The period of 2003-09 saw a revitalisation of Chinese education. Dr Shreeparna Roy of the University of Delhi noted that Beijing began encouraging innovation, research and development in the fields that would serve to augment the nation’s economic capability. Dr Sreemati Chakravarti, a noted China scholar, observed that China was getting increasingly affected by global academic integration. Another trend of expansion and "massification" of higher education was also discussed. This is reflected in the fact that China accounts for the highest number high school graduates entering higher education.

China’s education reform post-1978 was a reflection of moving from ’idealism’ to ’pragmatism’, according to Dr. Anamika of the Jamia Milllia Islamia. The period after 1978 saw the transition from the ’redness’ that marked Mao’s era of educational dissemination to a greater focus on expertise, geared to cater to the socialist market economy. The idea was to achieve social equality through educational equality.

Dr Anamika stressed on the importance of early childhood education, which she sees as critical in enabling students to develop greater cognitive capabilities and competency before entering primary level. In 1986, China enacted a law mandating Nine Year Compulsory Education, which was built on the principle of "people’s education run by the people". It was highlighted that the measure resulted in greater monetary pressure on parents, as well as on the local governments, working with meagre resources, who were supposed to implement the law.

The issue of social stratification as a result of China’s education models was also raised in the discussions by Dr Ravni Thakur of the University of Delhi. The roots of this inequality in China’s education system can be traced back to Liu Shaoqi’s two-track system - derived from "two kinds of labour and two kinds of education system". In order to streamline the limited resources, the village schools were supported by local communities while the urban schools were supported by the central government.

Key Schools also began coming up with greater resources and funding being diverted towards these schools and were mostly attended by children of the party cadre. The stratification of education system is also evident in the curriculum for urban and rural primary schools. Urban schools reflected a more conventional model of education while rural schools are designed to accommodate the agricultural patterns and geared students for adult life and manual labour in lower-skilled jobs. Furthermore, inequities are also visible in the poor service delivery and infrastructure availability.

Another aspect of education in China that was raised was vocational education. Lack of quality trainers remains an issue in vocational schools as well. While the status of such schools continues to be low, the government has begun paying more attention to it since 2003. Schools have also started to collaborate with industries so that the graduating students are better prepared to cope with industrial requirements.

Dr G. Balatchandirane highlighted how China is relying on its human capital and technological development in its education structure to augment its social and economic growth pattern. He also pointed out a particular move towards frugal engineering and knowledge economy in China.

The problems and challenges in Education in China today were also discussed at length. Despite the tremendous gains that China has made at various levels, the problem of disparities based on the urban-rural divide persists. While 90 percent of China’s youth manages to complete secondary education, half of China’s rural youth only manages to complete lower secondary education. Children of migrant workers are also suffering a lot in China as they are not able to meet residency requirements. Thus, these children are forced to enter informal schools. While China’s top institutes may be able to meet world standards, the quality of second and third tier institutions can be disputed. Moreover,

Even as there are various problems that China’s educational structure may be facing, it was noted that the system that China is attempting to evolve is geared to cater to a fast growing ambitious nation. In an investment driven economy, China’s government created an education model that was suited to create a productive and efficiently performing work force. The last two decades have also seen China focusing on innovation and research to provide the necessary thrust towards its objective of being a global leader. While China may be making important strides in the field academic research, questions were raised by the participants regarding the quality and veracity of publications arising from the country.

(This report is prepared by Arvind John, a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation)

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