Yuansu Wu
S60, ELI
July 28, 1998

   Education Reform in China

     In order to realize the Four Modernization of Industry, Agriculture, Science and Technology, and National Defense Modernization, China began its economic system reform in 1978. The reform was referred to as marketization, commodification, and socialization.  From then on, the market-oriented system has been gradually established to replace the planned economic system, which was adopted for several decades (Information China, 1989: 468), and “the economy has grown at an astonishing annual rate of nearly 10%” (Lin, 1997: 66).  Following the success of the economic system reform, Chinese education system is being changed.
     Historically, “the Chinese always put strong emphasis education”(Lin, 1997, 69).  For a long period, after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, to promote the idea of “serving the people” and to fulfill the goal of “the education must serve proletariat politics,” indicated by Mao Zedong, the Chinese government mainly relied on policies and administrative decrees to guide and administer educational activities (Wei, 1995:12).  For example, “the basic task for Chineae higher education to implement the state’s educational guidelines and produce specialized manpower of various kinds in a planned way so as to satisfy the needs of socialist construction” (Information China, 1989: 954).
Based on the public ownership, all schools were public schools.  The government provided educational funds, including higher education.  In addition, the government obligated mandatory-assigned jobs system (Zhou, 1995:15).  This education system was suited to the highly centralized planned economic system, but was divorced from economic development.
     Because of the high speeding of economic development, the Chinese industry impacted on the Chinese education system.  Pushed by the economic reform, the Chinese education system started its reform in the mid-1980s.

     The relaxation of government’s control and the change of the goal in education

     The reform of the Chinese economy changed the planned-economy perceptions first.  The concepts of social planning from planned economic system which was based on the public ownership was replaced by the ideas of the market-oriented economic system.  New value ideas were accepted.  The “new value stressed personal interests, material incentives, differential rewards, economic efficiency, marked distribution, and competition”(Mok,1997: 262).  So the government changed its function from controlling  public activities to providing comprehensive service.  China relaxed its control in education too.
    Considering that the modernization of science and technology was crucial for Chinese economic and social progress, in 1978, Deng XiaoPing, a great Chinese leader, stated that “education undertaking must be geared toward the needs of national economic development”(Mok, 1997: 263).  Serving economic and new social development becomes the goal of the Chinese education rather than serving people and proletariat politics.

     Issue of education law and open the door

     Predicated on the goal, the Chinese government issued “The Education Law of The
People’s Republic of China” in 1995, which took ten years to draft, and many new policies (Wei, 1995; 12).  In order to ensure the economic reform to be steady, the Chinese government has encouraged the nonstate sector to create more educational opportunities and open the door to the world (Pay as you learn, 1997: 32).  They include: study abroad, private school, and abolishment of mandatory assignment jobs.
     Since 1980, there have been more than 260,000 students studying in more than 100 countries, who are supported by Chinese government or self- financial support.  This is a great progress, compared to when China shut down its universities and sent students and scholars to work in fields and factories during the Chinese Culture Revolution, from 1966 to 1976 (Hertling, 1997: 51).

     Private school

     Before the economic reform, China was a public ownership country, so there were no private schools.  Under the idea of “walking on two legs” (Krebs, 1997: 331) private education has been encouraged.  For example, Sylvia Kebs and P.A.Cordiro separately wrote an article and a book to report about the Chinese private education.  Sylvia Krebs described a private school named “South Ocean International School” in Datong, northwest China in 1997.  According to her article, this school had 700 students, ranging in age from less than three to thirteen.  “The school admits children by examination--oral
interview for children entering kindergarten through the third grade and written examination for older students” (Krebs,1997: 331).  The most interesting thing was the tuition.  Krebs said that the tuition had two plans.  If a family could afford $15,000 for one child when the child enrolled, the payment would be returned in full when the child graduated.  On the another plan, if a family paid $3,700 every three years plus about $800 per year, none of the money would be refundable (Krebs,1997: 332).

     The abolishment of the job-assignment and free higher education

     The job-assignment system, based on planned economic and free higher education system, has been gradually abolished.  In the 1980s, the planned economy was in state of transition to the market-oriented economy.  Due to the fact that talent market is flexible and quite changeable, the “Mandatory assignments can not meet the needs of the market-oriented economy”(Pay as you learn, 1997: 32).  The state in fact has been not able to assign jobs for most college students according to plan.  In addition, “there are other choices in the rapidly growing private sector” (Bartels, 1995: 367) for students.  In order to ensure the development of higher education to be compatible with the new situations, reform of free higher education, which is not compulsory education, is necessary.  Since 1994 some departments such as computer science, electric and computer engineering, international trade foreign language and MBA in parts of universities have practiced self-financed study in Beijing, Shanghai and other center business areas.  Most universities and colleges introduced the new system in 1997.  By 2000, all universities and colleges throughout China will charge tuition.  To help the poor self –supporting students, the State Education Commission and experimental colleges and universities have adopted some measures.  The measures include scholarship for excellent students; special scholarship jointly established by a university and the state with related employment units; tuition loan and part-time jobs and special funds for exceptionally poor students (Cui,1995: 33).

     The allowance of foreign group to establish and manage the higher educational institutions to go China’s own way

     With no experience in socialist construction and encircled and blockaded by the imperialists” (Information China, 1989: 941), in the 1950s, the Chinese education drew on the experience of the Soviet Union, especially, higher education system.  These experiences included the Soviet Union’s education theories, educational plans, materials and textbooks; meantime, China invited experts from Soviet Union to teach Chinese students in universities and colleges (Information China,1989: 941).  Between the late 1950s and the mid-1960s the Chinese government tried to go its own way, but this effort was cut by the Cultural Revolution (Bartels, 1995: 31).  Although the Chinese government changed the education system a lot, the basic system, such as the organizational system of universities and colleges, is followed up to now.
     Unlike the US, the organizational system is “an amalgam of a few dozen
comprehensive universities and hundreds of specialized institutes”.  It “has been to produce loyal cogs for a lumbering industrial machine, not active minds for a competitive marketplace”(Hertling,1996: A51).   The students who have narrow vocational skills are no longer in great demand.  They are far more proficient in passing examinations, but they are now having an extremely difficult time in the fast-changing job market” (Hertling, 1996: A51), such as the Western science ideas.   To address the problem, China is attempting to use Western style teaching methods in order to increase the spectrum of natural science education.   For example, the government has taken an unprecedented step of encouraging foreign teacher to teach in its classroom, such as pollution problem in future (Berkovits,1997: 44).  In addition, China’s State Education Commission in 1995 stated new rules which allowed foreign groups, except religious, to enter China to establish and manage higher education institutions, and encourage foreign teachers to teach in China (Hertling, 1996: A51).

     The establishment of an education system that connects directly to industry, economic and social development

     Since the education reform, one of the reasons of the reform is to encourage whole society to be concerned about education and invest in education. Even though the educational budget has been increased to 10% of national budget, while only 4.8% in the 1950s (Information China, 1989: 946), it is not enough to meet the ends.  Encouraged by the government, universities and colleges have strengthened links with industry organizations.  Many universities and colleges have changed their traditional courses and programs to meet the needs of economic and social development; meanwhile, the public has invested more capital in education to renew the equipment and means to enhance the educational quality (Cui,1995: 15).


         Although the Chinese education system reform is just the beginning, the reform has made great changes.  The Chinese education reform attempts to found a new education system that directly connects with the economic and social development and progress.  What is mentioned above is only part of the achievements, and there are still many problems.  For example, because of the scant educational funds, only 2.5% of high school students are allowed to attain higher education ( Morris,1997: 210).  In the last 18 years, more than 260,000 students studied abroad, but only one third returned to China.
     How to promote the benefit of intellectuals is an important problem.  Because of the effect of Mao Zedong’s policies, which looked down upon knowledge and intellectual, the salary of intellectuals is lower than the average income (Hertling, 1997: 52).
     The biggest problem is how to continue to relax the central authorities (Hertling, 1997: 52).  Like other countries, the education reform always edges behind the economic and social reform, and Chinese education reform is not an exception.  However, the future of Chinese education system reform is optimistic.  Based on the further development of the Chinese economic reform and the political reform, for example, 15 ministries will be dismantled and the number of government bureaucrats will be cut in half by 2001 (Wehfritz, 1998: 39).  The new education system will be established soon and the system will astonish the world like its economic development.



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 Yuansu Wu, August 10,1998