Providing Equal Education for All

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2012-03-31 14:11
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Research Center for the Theoretical System of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics of the Ministry of Education of China


 Students playing games in English class. The government of Pujiang Township in Minhang District, Shanghai, has launched a scheme to establish free English clubs in schools for the children of migrant workers. Foreign teachers are invited to attend the clubs and give students English lessons five or six times a month. Shanghai’s vision of equal treatment for everyone in the city is gradually becoming a reality. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Fan Jun

 The requirement of equality in education for the benefit of everyone was put forward in the Outline of the National Plan for the Medium and Long-Term Reform and Development of Education (2010-2020). Equal education is a basic human ideal, a common goal of the international community, and an ongoing quest of the CPC. Equal education for all has become China’s fundamental policy for the reform and development of education. 

 Why should equal education be China’s fundamental policy in education?

 Equality in education is about a fair start in life. All of China’s citizens enjoy equal rights in political, economic and cultural terms, as well as in all other social aspects. However, differences in social strata and living environments and other social gaps still exist, and will continue so for a considerable duration of time. Coupled with the fact that nobody can choose the family or region in which they are born, it is inevitable that there will be various inequalities in life from the very start. Education is the most effective means of promoting the socialization of human beings and the primary means of realizing individual development. Access to fair and quality education is essential to the survival and development of every single member of society. Inequality in education may broaden the inherent gaps that divide people, having an extremely negative effect on the development and competitiveness of individuals. Equality in education is the most effective way of reducing, eliminating and even surpassing this inherent gap, ensuring that everyone gets off to a fair start. 

 Equality in education is not only the foundation of fairness in society, but also a fundamental requirement for the building of a harmonious socialist society. Education is the cornerstone for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and social progress, laying solid foundations for the development of the country and society. With a decisive bearing on the distribution and redistribution of social resources, equal education is an important aspect of justice and fairness in a modern society. There can be no true social fairness without equality in education. For this reason, equality in education is the foundation for equality in society. The building of a harmonious socialist society is a strategic measure that China is taking to resolve the widening social gap in the country. A harmonious socialist society must be achieved through social justice and fairness. Therefore, harmonious education is a precondition for the building of a harmonious socialist society. Harmonious education, or equal education, is characterized by balanced development. It ensures that everyone can benefit from high-quality educational resources and the fruits of educational reform and development.

 Inequality in education is a threat to the public well-being and social stability. Serious examples of inequality are still present in the current state of educational reform and development in China. For example, the allocation of educational resources is unbalanced between regions, between different groups of people, and between different stages of education, and it is still difficult for the disadvantaged to secure equal access to education, reasonable aid, and priority assistance. The development of the market economy has, to a certain extent, aggravated inequality in society and education. Given that capital is driven by profit, educational resources and services have tended to slant towards regions and people that can maximize the profits of service providers in education. Disadvantaged schools and students have been put at an even greater disadvantage owing to certain practices in local authorities and schools, such as overemphasizing rankings, results, and rate of students progressing to higher stages of education. Education serves the function of allocating social resources and determining the stratification of a modern society. Attending education is a means of securing educational, political, economic, cultural, and social interests. The existence of inequality in education inevitably leads to the unfair distribution of educational benefits between members of society. As a result, some people, especially the disadvantaged, are unable to enjoy educational benefits equally, which has adverse effects on these people in terms of social mobility, division of labor in society, and social stratification.

 How should equal education be understood?

 The formulation of policies and laws is an authoritative way of ensuring the equal distribution of social interests. Generally speaking, equal education means the equal distribution of educational interests. Therefore, under the current social conditions, it is about realizing the highest possible level of equality in education for the largest majority of people, so that all people can benefit from our accomplishments in the reform and development of education. To comprehensively and scientifically understand the notion of equality in education, we must establish the following two concepts.

 First, equality in education is a dialectical unity of realities and ideals. Educational equality is inevitably tied to specific social and historical conditions. Therefore, we must approach the problem of educational equality in light of current social conditions, and refrain from setting unrealistic development goals. From a historical perspective, equality in education always transcends the limits of social realities, because people’s demands for equality in education will never stop increasing. 

 Second, equality in education is a dialectical unity of absoluteness and relativity. By the absoluteness of equality, we mean that equality in education is not only the overriding principle for the allocation of educational interests and resources, but also the statutory right of citizens. Therefore, any educational policy that goes against this principle is unjust. Every citizen has the right to an education and equal opportunities. This principle is absolute. Members of society cannot be treated differently on the basis of their identity. However, equality in education involves differences in time and region, and does not mean that everyone receives exactly the same education. Equality in education cannot be divorced from specific social systems and realities in educational standards.

 Equality in education is a diverse and multi-layered concept. Firstly, equality in education is founded on the requirement that all citizens have equal political rights and equal legal rights to education, and that the personality of each individual is respected equally. Secondly, the whole process of education should be equal, from the outset to the outcome. Equality at the outset means that every citizen has equal opportunities in enrollment. This involves ensuring that every citizen has equal opportunities to receive compulsory education and to be selected for non-compulsory education. Equality in the process of education refers to equality in regard to conditions and opportunities for development during the course of education. This involves ensuring that each citizen has access to the same conditions and opportunities for development in the process of education, and that people are not subject to unfair treatment owing to their aptitude, family background, gender, race, or physical state. Equality in terms of outcome means that every citizen can receive an education that is suited to his or her aptitude and abilities. It means that every person has access to a basic standard of education and can fully fulfill his or her potential, and that the numbers of people in various levels of education from various social strata and social groups equate to the proportions that their respective demographic groups account for in the overall population. Thirdly, equality in education includes undifferentiated equality and differential equality. The former means that every person follows the same standards in enrollment, resource allocation and evaluation. The latter means that each person should be educated in light of his or her individual talents and interests, and that one can freely choose his or her education, provided that such choices do not damage the educational interests of other people. Fourthly, the provision of compensatory education and priority assistance to the disadvantaged is a fundamental requirement and an essential principle of equality in education. Fifthly, equality in education comprises of equality in terms of both quantity and quality. Equality in quantity requires that all people receive an equal length of schooling and that they are allocated an equal quantity of educational resources. Equality in terms of quality means that all people are able to receive a quality education. A high-level of equality in education is determined by equality in terms of outcome, equality in terms of quality, and differential equality.

 From a historical perspective, equality in education tends to progress along with the development of the economy, society, culture, and education. As a development process, it goes from a hierarchical system to equality in political rights and legal education rights, from ensuring equality at the outset to pursuing equality in process and outcome, from undifferentiated equality to differential equality, from focusing on providing equal opportunities for all people to placing an emphasis on compensatory education and priority assistance for the disadvantaged, and from equality in quantity to equality in terms of quality. 

 Policies on promoting equality in education

 The progression of equality in education is an objective historical process in all countries and societies. To resolve the issues confronting China in educational equality, we must fully understand the fundamental meaning of educational equality, respect the characteristics and laws that govern the development of equality in education, advance on a step-by-step basis, and strive to make breakthroughs in key areas. Such an approach will allow us to constantly enhance the level of educational equality in China. 

 We must ensure that all citizens are able to genuinely enjoy their legal rights with regard to education. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and particularly since the adoption of reform and opening up policy, we have made remarkable progress towards fully realizing the rights in education that citizens enjoy by law. However, there are still cases of people being unable to fully enjoy their statutory rights, as well as cases where the legal rights of citizens have been infringed. The outline for the reform and development of education states that the fundamental requirement of equality is to safeguard the right to education that all citizens have according to law. This is the basic requirement for ensuring equal opportunities in education for all. At present, we should focus on resolving the issue of educational inequality caused by the gap between rich and poor.

 We must actively pursue educational equality in terms of quality whilst ensuring equal opportunities in education. The outline for the reform and development of education points out that the key to equality in education is equal opportunities. The outline also defines the basic targets for educational equality in accordance with the current development level of the economy, society, culture and education. China’s basic targets at present are to ensure that every citizen has equal opportunities to receive compulsory education, equal opportunities to be selected for non-compulsory education, and that all citizens enjoy equal opportunities and conditions for development during the process of schooling. While ensuring equal opportunities, we must adopt forward-looking policies to actively promote equality in terms of the quality of education. Constant efforts should be made to achieve more advanced levels of educational equality in China. 

 We must promote the balanced development of compulsory education. The outline states that the focus of equality in education should be promoting the balanced development of compulsory education. Therefore, regarding the balanced development of compulsory education as a strategic task, we should rationally allocate educational resources, narrow the gaps between schools, between urban and rural areas, and between different regions, and resolve issues related to the selection of schools. We must establish mechanisms to guarantee the balanced development of compulsory education, and strive to standardize primary schools and junior middle schools. 

 We should provide disadvantaged people with greater support. The outline states that efforts to promote equality in education should be concentrated on supporting disadvantaged people. To realize equality in education, policies must continue to provide the disadvantaged with compensatory education and priority assistance. We must ensure that the children of migrant workers have equal opportunities to receive compulsory education and enroll in senior middle schools in cities. In addition, we should place emphasis on providing vocational education for young migrant workers and help them to integrate into local communities. We must safeguard the educational rights of disabled people and make greater efforts to support the disadvantaged. Policies on compensatory education and priority assistance should be brought under clearly defined regulations and laws. 

 The government must fulfill its responsibilities regarding equality in education. The outline states that the government should assume the main responsibility for the promotion of equality in education. In modern society, the government is the largest and most instrumental force behind the promotion of equality in education. The provision of policies on equal education is the fundamental responsibility of the government in education. In order for this fundamental responsibility to be fulfilled, the responsibilities of various levels of government in regard to equality in education must be clearly defined. On this basis, governments at all levels shall fulfill their responsibilities in regard to budgetary expenditure in education, developing rural education, standardizing and supervising the education market, and building a framework of public services in education that covers both urban and rural areas. We should view equality in education and the balanced development of education as a basic criterion for the evaluation of governments at all levels. We also need to develop a framework for the public governance of education under which the government plays a leading role while all sectors of society are able to participate, thereby ensuring that all members of society are engaged in a joint effort to promote equality in education.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.19, 2011)

Note: / This article is written by Gu Mingyuan, President of the Chinese Society of Education and a professor at Beijing Normal University; and Liu Fuxing, a professor at Beijing Normal University.

  The CPC, together with the Chinese people, has engaged in a major effort to bring education to all citizens since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, and especially following the launch of the reform and opening up drive. Owing to this effort, China has made historic achievements in the promotion of equal opportunities in education. Universal access to nine-year compulsory education has been achieved throughout the country, higher education has been made much more accessible, systems for the subsidization of students in compulsory education, senior middle school education, and higher education have been established, and equal access to compulsory education for the children of migrant workers in cities has basically been ensured. These achievements have done an enormous deal to promote social equality and improve the level of public well-being. However, owing to uneven development over a protracted period of time, there is still a gap in education between urban and rural areas and between eastern and western regions. 
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