Posted Under: Chinese Education Policy,Education System,University,Vocational Education
In an eye-opening article, book author and U.S. policy insider Catherin E. Dalpino reasons about China’s understanding and way of implementing democracy. Dalpino applies the term pop-up democracy used by U.S. policy makers to describe the myth of all repressive governments replacing their totalitarian by democratic structures. In her view, the pop-up democracy theory had failed in most countries. Referring to China she sees the country already on its way to democracy and suggests America’s only chance to contribute to China’s further democratisation as staying involved on practical rather than political level. That article was published in March 2000 – ten years ago. Pop-up democracy, however, can very well describe the Chinese way of democratisation: whatever pops up from the bottom is taken into some consideration; whatever pops up in considerable amounts is taken into serious consideration and may lead to incrementally improving the Chinese society.
The annual National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) may serve as one example: before, during and after these congresses, delegates, orally or in writing, submit their suggestions to the country’s leadership. Holding the stethoscope on this year’s NPC / CPPCC bodies, we did not only find suggestions but people really speaking up regarding improvements to be applied to China’s education sector:
Henan province delegate Hu Baosen, former President of Henan real estate conglomerate Jianye and among the wealthiest Chinese to date, sees a lack of moral education in the Chinese society. He suggests for primary and secondary school attendees to be taught in “reading historic books, reciting Confucius and Mencius, and in a certain amount of traditional Chinese characters” on a compulsory basis. “Educational departments”, he envisages, “should team up with private educators to review existing textbooks, train teachers and plan the curriculum”. Hu’s motivation for the proposal can be described as to rebuild national spirit and confidence.
The heated debate about China’s college entrance exam has called former Deputy Minister of Education, Zhao Qinping, on stage who vigorously vows against a request to abolish the system completely: “College entrance exam reform is necessary, but we need to carefully modify it, taking social development and national tolerance into consideration”. According to Zhao, haste or even abolishment of the current entrance examination system would lead to more unfairness. His suggestion is to redesign the selection criteria as they were “too simple”.
Luo Chongmin, Director of the Yunnan Provice education department and driver of the education reform process, sees a need to evolve the current 9-year compulsory system to become a 15-year universal education model. By adding three years of pre-school as well as three years of high-school education to everyone’s curriculum (by legislation), a wider audience would have access to what he calls “universal education”.
Another topic causing the education sector’s feelings run high is the proposed separation of the entrance examinations for undergraduate study and vocational training into two different types. Some delegates argue that the current system resulted in frustration among those failing the college entrance exam (gaokao) degrading them to going the vocational path. It was more appropriate to offer entrance examinations specifically for vocational schools that would be on a less academic and more practical level. In contrast to their academic counterparts, vocational entrance exams could be held under the auspices of each province. The biggest challenge discussed here seems to be how to adjust pre-examination scores which currently do not take practical skills into consideration.
German-educated delegate Zhu Tianhui, who is a senior researcher into biochemistry and molecular biology at Nankai University, has several suggestions to convey: She sees new challenges toward internationalisation of China’s higher education system arising from the fact that China had become the world’s largest student sender to other countries; According to her, education should emphasise more on social responsibility and practical issues around succeeding in life; As graduates of vocational schools were too young – oftentimes under the legally required age of 16 years – and not able to meet requirements of the industry, Zhu sees merit in expanding compulsory education onto the vocational training level; With the unemployment rate of Chinese university graduates on a constant rise and with more autonomy granted to academic bodies, Zhu demands a quality control system regularly evaluating school management and empowering teachers to train students toward what society really needs.
Dean of the School of Business Administration at the Zhejiang University of Technology, NPC delegate Cheng Huifeng pleads for more autonomy of Chinese schools by saying that “training should be market-oriented” and that universities should be enabled to hire teachers they need to develop excellence which could only be achieved by allowing different levels of tuition fees. High-quality educational institutions “such as Tsinghua and Peking University should be allowed to increase their tuition fees”.
The debate about incrementally improving China’s education sector is on and being held on various levels utilising the whole spectrum of communication means. It might not be visible to the culturally untrained eye, but democracy is on its way, and education is only one – though likely one of the most important and most challenging – societal aspects to shape China’s future and appearance in the world.