China’s education: Investing in the future

Posted by Admin on Saturday, 26 January 2008 | Opini

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 01/26/2008 2:02 AM

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Former Governor, National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), Jakarta

A recent visit by the National Education Council to China provided great insight into China’s educational system. As a member of the council, I had the opportunity to participate in the visit.

Only Beijing and Shanghai were visited in the six-day program. As the nation’s capital and center of government, Beijing offered an overall view of education in China, while in Shanghai we observed educational activities in the nation’s largest trading city.

Since reforms were initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1979, China has displayed an awareness of its capability to play a significant role in international relations today. It realizes that its future will very much be decided by the quality of its human resources.

China adopted the Open Policy to safeguard its standing in the international community. And that attitude is clearly demonstrated in its education system. A good example is the fact that English is now taught from the first year of primary school upward.

This means that 20 years from now most Chinese adults will be expected to speak English. Today, it is rather difficult to find anybody speaking English, even among important government officials, despite them being graduates of good universities.

Another indication of China’s awareness of the importance of quality education is the implementation of Project 211, which began in 1995. Its objective is to improve higher education to speed up economic progress, and in turn science, technology and culture. The result is expected to enhance China’s overall capacity and international competitiveness and to lay the foundations for the training of highly qualified professionals, mainly within its own educational institutions. About 101 institutes are involved with an investment of 15 billion renminbi. In 2001, China sent 323,000 students to study abroad, while 62,000 foreign students studied in China.

Apart from Project 211, China has made many changes to its higher educational system since 1979 to improve standards in education. In 2001, there were a total of 3,113 higher education institutions (HEI), among which 1,225 were government-owned, 686 were for adults and 1,202 were non governmental. These institutions are managed by sharing responsibility between the central and provincial governments, with provincial governments in control of overall management.

In the past, HEIs were mainly government owned; now private organizations and individuals are being encouraged to run them. In 2001, 11.75 million undergraduate students and 393,000 graduate students enrolled for higher education. There are also 45 colleges with 63,000 students using online distance education.

Software education has been strengthened and there are 37 software colleges and institutes. There have also been improvements in science and the humanities, in particular biotechnology.

Quality assurance has been established by developing an evaluation system that is based on international standards. Higher or tertiary education in China is provided by short-cycle courses or schools, undergraduate courses and postgraduate programs. Bachelor degree holders now number 4,600,000; Masters, 430,000 and Phds, 43,000. Funding comes from several channels with the government playing the most important role.

In scientific research there are 106 national key laboratories, 20 national engineering research centers and 22 national science and technology parks. All part of the nation’s objective to rapidly develop the use of technology in educational institutions.

Basic education — meaning pre-school (kindergarten), six years of primary, three years of junior secondary and three years of senior secondary education — is also receiving a lot of attention. Basic education is the responsibility of local governments with the central government exercising general guidelines.

The central government formulates the laws and regulations, policies and overall planning, and general supervision and guidance of the work of local governments.

Provincial governments are responsible for designing and developing teaching plans for basic education in their respective areas. They organize evaluations of compulsory education which includes the basic nine-year education, establish special funds to help poor and minority areas, and provide subsidies to counties with inadequate educational expenditures.

County-level governments are in charge of compulsory education, including managing the county’s education budget, as well as the deployment and management of school principals and teachers.

Township governments at the lowest level of administration are mainly responsible for compulsory education in their jurisdiction. Basic education in rural areas has been important in upgrading the labor force and advancing living standards. More than 95.2 percent of primary schools, 86.7 percent of junior secondary schools and 71.5 percent of senior secondary schools are located in towns and villages.

To promote quality, the government decides which schools are excellent at the state, province, county or township level. Every province has more than one excellent-graded school — which are considered equal with the best schools in advanced countries. The excellent schools in the provinces, we were told, were not too different in quality than the ones we visited in Beijing and Shanghai.

Considering the number of provinces in China, many more highly educated graduates can be expected.

Pre-school education is an important component of education in China. In urban areas toddlers attend kindergartens for three years, while in rural areas these are mainly nursery classes and seasonal kindergartens. At the end of 1998 there were more than 180,000 kindergartens with about 24 million pupils.

Vocational education has also been important, especially since 1978. There are now vocational schools from junior secondary level to higher education level. Vocational junior secondary schools are mostly in rural areas, they have boosted the number of skilled workers in those areas. There are 1,472 such schools with about 867,000 students.

Vocational senior secondary schools consist of secondary technical schools that enroll junior high school graduates and usually last four years. A few specialties are open only for senior high school graduates lasting two years. The basic task of these schools is to train secondary level specialized and technical skills to produce highly skilled graduates.

In 1998 there were 17,000 vocational senior secondary schools with 11.46 million students. Vocational tertiary education aims to train secondary and highly specialized technical and management oriented students. It emphasizes practical development and craft-oriented capabilities.

Perhaps more important than numbers is the implementation of all the educational programs. In the schools we visited in Beijing and Shanghai, there was a healthy general atmosphere that seemed geared toward promoting high standards in education.

For a such a large country it certainly would not be possible to achieve the same standard everywhere. However, even if only 10 percent of China’s population receive high quality education, this means that already more than 130 million people are highly educated.

With its abundant natural resources and sustained economic drive since 1979, China can surely attain economic progress that will some day equal a nation like the United States. It will undoubtedly soon have a tremendous impact on Asia and the world at large.

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