Development and Reform of China’s Education System

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-20 00:05
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    The Leading Party Group of the Ministy of Education of the PRC

    The founding of New China in 1949 opened up a new page in the history of the development of China’s education system as well as a new era in the history of the Chinese nation. In 1978, when China began to implement the policy of reform and opening up, the education system embarked on the road of development of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Over the past 60 years, China has made achievements in education that have caught the attention of the world and made the historical transformation from a country with a large population to a country rich in human resources, adding a glorious chapter to the history of China’s education.

    Glorious achievements in developing educational undertakings in 60 years

    Development of the education system of New China began from an extremely backward base. In 1949, 80% of China’s population was illiterate, the enrollment rate of students in primary schools was only 20% and in junior middle schools 6%, and the number of students in institutions of higher learning was only 117,000. Unremitting efforts over the past 60 years, particularly during the past 30 years of reform and opening up, have resulted in earthshaking changes in the education system and historical achievements in education that have caught the attention of the world.

    First, China has made nine-year compulsory education universally available and made compulsory education free in both urban and rural areas of the country. After the founding of New China, the CPC and the central government began working to make education universally available and raise the overall quality of the people. In the 1980s, they decided to implement a nine-year compulsory education system. Through unremitting efforts China successfully made nine-year compulsory education basically available throughout the country as of the end of last century and basically realized the objective of wiping out illiteracy among the young and middle-aged. China has been providing comprehensive budgetary guarantees for the development of compulsory education since the beginning of the new century, and compulsory education has entered a new stage in which it is being consolidated, upgraded and made universally available. As of 2008, the net primary enrollment ratio for China reached 99.5% and the gross secondary enrollment ratio reached 98.5%, resulting in the illiteracy rate among the young and middle-aged dropping to less than 3.58%. Making compulsory education completely free and universally available in this developing country with a population of 1.3 billion is a great historical achievement in the history of education in China.

    Second, the development of higher education has taken a historical leap and entered a stage of increasing availability. China made rapid progress in developing higher education after the founding of New China, but by 1998 the number of students at regular and specialized institutions of higher learning was only some 3.4 million. In 1999, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council made a major decision to greatly expand enrollment at institutions of higher learning. The gross enrollment ratio in China’s higher education reached 15% in 2002, greatly expanding the availability of higher education, another historical leap in the history of education in China. In 2008, there were 6.08 million students enrolled in regular institutions of higher education in China, six times the number of 1998. The number of students attending regular and specialized institutions of higher learning reached 20.21 million, six times that of 1998 and more than 172 times that of 1949. The number of students attending all types of institutions of higher learning has now reached 29.07 million and the gross enrollment ratio has reached 23.3%.

    Third, the development of vocational education has been accelerated in the process of carrying out reforms and making innovations, and major breakthroughs have been made in improving the overall structure of education. Since the institution of the reform and opening up policy, and particularly since the beginning of the new century, the CPC and the central government have been giving development of vocational education a higher priority and established a policy of extensively developing vocational education. High-school-level vocational education has been rapidly developed to meet the needs of individuals and society as a whole guided by the demands of the job market. College-level vocational education has also made rapid strides and is now able to train large numbers of technical personnel. A total of 11 million students were enrolled in high-school-level vocational education courses and college-level vocational education courses in 2008, bringing the total number of students receiving vocational education to some 30 million, accounting for half of all types of students at the two levels.

    Deng Wenjun (center), along with other classmates in the 5th grade at the No. 2 Primary School in Zhangshu, Jiangxi Province, receives free textbooks on September 1, 2008. The Chinese government decided to eliminate all education-related fees for students receiving compulsory education in all urban schools beginning with the fall 2008 school session. This is another important project to improve people’s lives following on the heels of the government’s moves to reform the mechanism for financial guarantees for the operation of rural compulsory education .  / Photo supplied by Xinhua

    Fourth, China has made major strides toward realizing equality in education, by putting equal access first in development of the education system. Equal access to education is a basic right of every citizen granted by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and a constant goal in the development of education. Since the introduction of the reform and opening up policy, and particularly since the Sixteenth CPC National Congress, China has been working to ensure that children, young people and adults in both urban and rural areas of the country have an equal access to education and quality educational resources by gradually making compulsory education free in all urban and rural areas of the country, establishing and improving a system to subsidize the education of students from families with financial difficulties and adopting policies and measures to help rural areas, especially poverty-stricken areas and areas inhabited by ethnic minorities.

    Fifth, China has established the basic framework for a socialist educational system with Chinese characteristics and is following a path for developing the education system under socialism with Chinese characteristics. China’s education system is the largest in the world. The total number of students attending all types of schools at all levels reached 260 million in 2008, providing a powerful guarantee for an ample supply of skilled personnel and human resources for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and carrying out socialist modernization. We carried out reforms in the management of education, school operation and the financing of education to create an education system that is multi-layered, wide in scope and comprehensive and that is open to the outside world and establish the basic framework for an education system suited to socialism with Chinese characteristics. China is a large developing country with a weak economic foundation and a large population. While taking into consideration the fact that we are a poor country trying to operate a large-scale education system, we have made service our primary objective and pursued development of education by contributing to the development of the country. We have made development of the education system a part of the great process of socialist modernization and taken a development path that is vigorous and dynamic.

    Valuable lessons and inspirations for the future garnered over the past 60 years

    China has accumulated valuable experience in developing education over the past 60 years since the founding of New China. This valuable, historically significant experience will provide inspiration for years to come and serve as a practical guide to help China’s education system vigorously meet the challenges of the future.

    First, we must unwaveringly follow a path of developing the education system in line with socialism with Chinese characteristics. The fundamental task of education is to train people. In order to ensure that we can turn out generation after generation of competent and reliable personnel to work for the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics we must maintain the leadership of the CPC in educational work, be guided by the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, thoroughly apply the Scientific Outlook on Development, fully implement the Party’s education policy and ensure that students receive a well-rounded education.

    Second, we must continue to make education a strategic priority in overall development efforts. Taking into consideration restrictions in our efforts to ensure China’s sustainable development presented by the size of the population, limited energy and resources, and environmental concerns, we must continue to give education a high priority in development and increase reliance on advances in science and technology and overall improvement in the quality of the workforce in our modernization efforts to make China a country with excellent human resources.

    Third, we must continue to make development of the education system scientific. The key to maintaining the strategic position of education in overall development efforts is to ensure that education is developed scientifically and that development is carried out in accordance with the general laws of education. We must continue to make educating people and turning out qualified personnel the fundamental purpose of education, balance the considerations of scale, quality, structure and performance, balance development of urban and rural education, and balance reform, development and stability in education to ensure sound and rapid development of the education system.

    Fourth, we must continue to rely on teachers in the operation of schools. “We must first of all develop a strong education system to make the country strong and first of all ensure the quality of teachers to improve the education system.” Without a contingent of high quality teachers we cannot ensure that students receive a high quality education. We must wholeheartedly rely on the people’s teachers and always uphold and promote the fine society-wide custom of respecting teachers and valuing education and give full play to the enthusiasm, initiative and creativity of teachers.

    Fifth, we must continue to make reform and opening up the force driving the development of education. We must continue working to free our minds and keep up with the times, respect the creative spirit of the people, learn and borrow from the experience of other countries in developing education, eradicate all ideas and concepts restraining the development of education, continuously promote reform and innovation of the education system and continuously open education wider to the outside world in order to inject new drive and vigor into development of the education system.

    Sixth, we must continue to develop the education system for the benefit of the people and by relying on the people. Education affects hundreds of millions of families and impacts the growth and development of every individual. We must continue to view education as a public service, constantly work to promote equal access to education, ensure that every child has an opportunity to receive a good education, ensure that all the people enjoy the fruits of reform and development of the education system and win the concern and support of the public for education in order to always be able to satisfy the people’s ever-growing education demands and ensure that the education system satisfies the people.

(From Qiushi in Chinese No.19 2009)

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