Happening Today: Education Week Leadership Symposium. Learn more and register.
Federal

Trends in China: Schooling Shifting With Market Forces

By Sean Cavanagh — April 22, 2008 3 min read

China’s education system has undergone significant changes over the past quarter-century, some brought into classrooms directly by government policy, others swept along by the rising tide of free-market reforms.

Many of the policies pushed by national leaders in recent years have focused on increasing access to education for students in impoverished rural areas, while also improving curriculum and building broader academic skills among older students.

Teaching and learning in China have long been shaped heavily by the country’s exam system, which determines admission to high schools and colleges in the nation of 1.3 billion.

Nation at Risk: 25 Years Later
America Scouts Overseas to Boost Education Skills
Researchers Gain Insight Into Education’s Impact on Nations’ Productivity
Catching Up on Algebra
Trends in China: Schooling Shifting With Market Forces
Trends in India: Expanding Middle Class Drives Private Schooling
Trends in the European Union: Education Seen Driving Prosperity
Trends in Japan: Japan Continues Search for Academic Triumph
COMMENTARY
E.D. Hirsch Jr.: An Epoch-Making Report, But What About the Early Grades?
Howard Gardner: E Pluribus...A Tale of Three Systems

But in recent years, the central government, which sets national education policy, has encouraged schools to emphasize applied skills and independent thinking, as opposed to simply exam-driven content—a difficult undertaking.

Many schools and colleges were closed during the Cultural Revolution. Following the death of Mao Zedong, the rise of reformist leader Deng Xiaoping sparked plans to rebuild and reorganize the education system.

Two of the most far-reaching changes were the establishment of nine years of compulsory education, and the re-establishment of a national college-entrance exam, said Jinfa Cai, a professor of mathematics and education at the University of Delaware. High school courses were tailored to meet exam content, he said; teachers were evaluated on students’ test performance.

Today, Chinese students attend schools with different academic demands. “Normal” schools offer a more standard curriculum, and more-elite “key” schools generally present a more demanding one. Students’ ability to gain access to more selective schools is often limited by economic circumstance, among other factors. Vocational education greatly increased in the 1980s, though the trend has been toward a general education in recent years, according to a 2008 study by the RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy.

Education Highlights

Curriculum: Schools follow a curriculum established by the national government. A government agency, the People’s Education Press, has responsibility for curriculum and textbook development. The number of private or independent curriculum and textbook developers has grown in recent years, however. Most private schools follow the government curriculum, though some have adopted their own model, PEP officials have said.

Testing: Students take exams to gain admission to high school (grades 10-12) and college. Those exams, which shape curriculum and instruction, are especially important given the limited spaces in elite secondary schools and in China’s growing postsecondary market.

Spending: China’s spending on public education, as a proportion of its gross domestic product, is about 2 percent, roughly half that of India’s, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. In recent years, much of the burden of financing education has shifted from the national level to state and local governments, which has resulted in higher enrollment fees, a 2008 report by the RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy says.

Access: Education is compulsory in grades 1-9, although school access and quality vary significantly by region. Access tends to be greater in the cities and eastern provinces, though the millions of migrant families entering urban areas struggle to find services; some have turned to low-cost, often unregulated private schools as a result.

Another change, emerging in the late 1990s, was the government’s attempt to implement stronger curriculum guidelines at the high school level, Mr. Cai said. Those changes have placed a greater emphasis on critical thinking, applied skills, and more in-depth content in mathematics and other subjects, as well as the integration of technology into the curriculum, said the professor, who has studied math curriculum in China.

Other factors have the potential to diversify China’s curriculum further, said Jianjun Wang, a professor of education at California State University-Bakersfield. In a reflection of growing free-market influences, more independent publishers, such as universities, are developing classroom materials that were once crafted almost exclusively by the government, said Mr. Wang, a former Ministry of Education official.

While U.S. officials have cited the need to improve schools in response to foreign competition, Mr. Cai said, the motives of Chinese officials are different. There is a sense that good schools are needed for the nation “to be prosperous,” he said. “Education serves society. … [There’s] not so much talk of ‘global competitiveness.’ ”

Special coverage marking the 25th anniversary of the landmark report A Nation at Risk is supported in part by a grant from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the April 23, 2008 edition of Education Week as Schooling Shifting With Market Forces

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Pitches Plan to Expand Universal Pre-K, Free School Meal Programs, Teacher Training
The president's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan faces strong headwinds as Congress considers other costly administration proposals.
8 min read
President Joe Biden addresses Congress from the House chamber. Behind him are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud.<br/>
Chip Somodevilla/AP
Federal Education Department Kicks Off Summer Learning Collaborative
The Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative will boost programs for students acutely affected by COVID-19 in 46 states.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic on March 3, 2021.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News via TNS
Federal As 100-Day Mark Approaches, Has Biden Met His School Reopening Goal? And What Comes Next?
President Joe Biden faces a self-imposed deadline of having most K-8 schools open for in-person learning by his hundredth day in office.
6 min read
First Lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tour Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, in Meriden, Ct., on March 3, 2021.
First lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tour Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, in Meriden, Ct., in March.
Mandel Ngan/AP
Federal How the Pandemic Is Affecting Schools' Mandated Collection of Key Civil Rights Data
COVID-19 has complicated the work of gathering a vast store of civil rights data about schools that is required by the Education Department.
7 min read
Image of data.
monsitj/iStock/Getty