China Country Report: Overview

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We wanted to understand how the aims of the Effective Education for Employment project tallied with the views of educational and economic stakeholders in China, so we went there to meet them. This section is the fruit of that labour and provides some background on the factors which have influenced economic development within China as well as a description of some of the most recent influential changes in educational policy and practice. It will help you understand the importance of some of the critical educational issues identified within the country as well as some conclusions on what changes need to be made.

The Economy

China has been one of the fastest growing major economies in the world over the last five years. It is one of the world's biggest exporters and the country maintains a huge trade surplus. In fact, the transformation currently taking place has been described as a 'second industrial revolution'.

Beyond the requirements of the manufacturing and construction industries, President Hu Jintao stated in 2006 that he wanted to move from 'made in China' recognition around the world to one of 'designed in China'. It is clear, therefore, that he believes long-term economic strength lies as much in the knowledge economy as it did in the sectors that China now dominates.

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The Workforce

Many workforce challenges have been created by the pace of economic change and the encouragement of private enterprise. Among them is a growing need for better skilled, more flexible workers. The migration of rural populations to growing industrial cities in the east has also created its own challenges. The global economic downturn, and its impact on China's manufacturing and construction industries, has created an even greater need for a more diverse workforce.

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Education

To realise its vision, China requires an education system that supports and nurtures creativity and innovation, one that can develop the imagination and talent of the country's future business leaders. Demand for skills development has increased exponentially but structural and procedural changes have been slow to filter down.

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Professional Education

During the mid-to-late 1990s, the Chinese government began significant reforms in the professional education sector with the aim of strengthening the impact and reach of vocational study. The government's own figures suggest a degree of success. Between 1980 and 2001, the proportion of secondary vocational school students increased from 19% to 45.3% and secondary vocational education institutions produced around 50 million graduates.

The World Bank recognises that China has made substantial efforts to modernise their technical and vocational education programmes. China currently has the largest structure of vocational education programmes in the world (in terms of number of graduates). In spite of this reform though, there is still a significant gap between policy and practice. The numbers passing through the system are increasing, though many feel the overall quality of education is poor. And graduate successes in finding work seem to be more reflective of demand rather than the quality of available skills or employer satisfaction.

Professional education is a strategic priority in the government's 11th Five-Year Plan, published in 2006. Its stated objectives are to improve quality and relevance, encourage greater links between education and industry, provide greater access to students on low incomes and diversify the sources of training. This strategy is already creating significant opportunities in the commercial education market but quality is still a considerable problem.

The regulation of public vocational education institutions is an issue. Providers have very limited powers to change course content as government guidelines typically dictate the subjects that are taught, the time spent on each subject and the general construction of the curriculum. This makes it more difficult for institutions to innovate.

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