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Education in China

Confucianism is a tradition generally rooted in Chinese culture and nurtured by Confucius and Confucians. Traditional views of Chinese education suggest that mainland Chinese students place high emphasis on examination results and usually perform well in answering straightforward examination questions that require memorization.

Education success has much to do with societal and family beliefs in the immense value of being well-educated. China has a long tradition of respect for education. Exams are still a very important part of the learning process.

The main influence on Chinese learning essentially comes from Confucius. Conventional educational approaches (e.g., rote learning and the application of examples) have remained largely unaffected because the strength of the philosophy is closely linked to education and learning. The popular view is that the stresses of learning and the need to excel academically leave the mainland Chinese student with little choice but to resort to rote learning of the essentials in order to pass the examination.

The students’ fear of losing face and lack of previous work experience make them reluctant to ask questions. Mainland Chinese students tend to emphasize harmony in the learning environment and thus do not want to attack or challenge another group’s point of view. Confucianism places high emphasis on community affiliations within a structurally oriented society. The system produces decent bureaucrats and number crunchers, but very few inventors and entrepreneurs.

A study by the Hangzhou Education Science Publishing House reported that Chinese students spend nearly 10 hours per day studying in the primary grades, 11 hours per day in middle school, and 12.5 hours per day in high school. Kieth Bradsher reported on the life of a typical Chinese high school student: “She woke up at 5:30 every morning to study, had breakfast at 7:30, then attended classes from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30; 1:30-5:30 in the afternoon; and 7:30-10:30 in the evening. She studied part of the day on Saturdays and Sundays.” David Jiang, an American born Chinese who went to China for his high-school years, wrote in his blog: “What I saw around me [in high school] was a mass of zombies. … It is here that I realized how shallow grades were….”

Chinese education is limited to rote learning of facts to pass the Gaokao. Chinese students work very hard take what is perhaps the most important test in their lifetime: the gaokao, or college entrance examination. China's college entrance examination is always considered the most significant and equal exam in the country. Gaokao is not only an exam for students, but also for parents. Parents add extra pressure to their children by being superstitious and desperately turning to any weird solution they can find.

In the Chinese education system, every child is cultivated to reach the top. Only 10 percent of them will succeed - there is room at the top for only a small number of people. However, China provides its parents with a dream, and an equal chance for everyone to receive an elite education. Entrance into highly competitive schools depends on the gaokao, a notoriously difficult, life-defining college-entrance exam. The “defining” impacted parents since most lacked adequate pensions and depend on an only child to make enough to support them in old age.

For years, gaokao had been censured for being too rigid and strangling students' creativity. Usually, students have to cram more than 10 hours a day during high school, preparing for an exam that will decide their fate. The overemphasis on getting a good score has been edging out opportunities and time to develop other skills and capabilities. To correct the situation, gaokao began to be reformed in 2014, so that students would no longer dread it as the "Irongate," the name given to it by people due to the high failure rate.

The oriental education provides children with a solid educational base, and especially an obvious advantage in 'hard' courses such as math, physics and chemistry. It also helps the children to learn good Chinese. Speaking good Chinese was becoming a clear advantage in western job markets.

China developed from a country with an 80-percent illiteracy rate to having over 275 million students studying at various forms of schools. China embarked on the development of a comprehensive education system in the 1980s that includes 9 years of compulsory education for all students. Chinese education focuses on the holistic development of its students and considers equity of critical importance. Chinese compulsory education generally refers to its primary education (Year 1-6) and secondary education (Year 7-9). It is widely acknowledged that this compulsory education has laid a solid foundation for Chinese students, which ensure their success in international tests.

China is pressing ahead with education reform. On the one hand, the rising education quality of Chinese universities has improved the comprehensive capabilities of Chinese students. They are not only good at sitting for exams and achieving high scores, but their personal quality is also improving. A growing number of Chinese students are now going abroad to attend universities with more confidence.

On the other hand, in many places across the country, college education resources are still scarce, and students find it extremely difficult to make it to prestigious domestic universities. So to go to a foreign university is a new option for rich families in these provinces. Good students who may not get into good Chinese universities due to the tough competition in their province will have a chance of getting into good foreign universities.

Choosing a foreign university or a domestic university does not necessarily reflect whether a student is academically or comprehensively capable or not. This is just an optional route to receive education. With reform and opening up in China advancing and its economy rising, prestigious foreign universities were getting increasingly within the reach of Chinese students.

In China, as in most societies, education systems are political and function as an instrument to facilitate the younger generation’s amalgamation into existing social system. The first lesson that many children learn when they start school is conformity. The underlying principle of education is viewed not so much as an encouragement to promote individuality; rather, it is to make individuals apprehend that they are part of a collectivity; thus, they have to conform to the norms and values of the collective.

The Chinese central government began to allow domestic private investment in education in the late 1970s as a way to aid areas where public educational resources were inadequate. In 1986, China passed the Compulsory Education Law, which mandated nine years of compulsory education (grades 1 through 9) and required that provincial and local governments take the necessary steps, including encouraging the private sector to invest in education and to ensure that all school-age children receive at least the required nine years of education.

In 1997, the China State Council, which oversees the Ministry of Education, released the Rules for Social Force-Run Schools that encouraged the development of private education in China. In December 2002, the China Standing Committee of the National People's Congress passed the Non-State Education Promotion Law which permitted private Chinese individuals to earn reasonable profits from their investments in private education practices.

According to the Chinese Non-Government Education Reform and Development Survey Report (the “Survey Report”) issued by the Chinese Association for Non-Government Education in 2009, the private sector accounted for approximately 10% to 20% of student enrollment in the education market across the levels of education from kindergarten to higher education and continuous training. Over the previous three decades, the geographical coverage of the private sector had extended from its beginnings in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Henan to 34 provincial administrative regions nationwide.

Provincial and local governments have explicitly encouraged the growth of private education and implemented favorable and flexible promotional policies in their regions. The measures include tax refunds, permission for vocational schools to independently determine tuition rates, grant of eligibility for favorable rates on land use rights, and promotional policies in the recruitment and compensation packages for the teachers of private schools, students admission, and bank credits.

The market demand and government support created a solid foundation for the private sector to prosper in the private education market. According to the Survey Report, Zhejiang Province private high school enrollment is 22% of overall high school enrollment compared to the Chinese national average of 10%. In Wuhu city of Anhui Province, the number of private kindergartens was about 90% of the total number of kindergartens in the city in 2007.

In June 2010, the Chinese government released the National Outline for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development 2010-2020 (the “2010 National Outline”). The 2010 National Outline recognizes the private sector as one important growth point in the Chinese education system in the coming decade and encourages the investment by private shareholders or jointly with public institutions to develop educational programs. The 2010 National Outline emphasizes that schools, students, and teachers in the private sector have equal legal status with their counterparts in the public sector and urges local governments to correct the disparity in their policies with private schools.

In addition, the 2010 National Outline requests the public funding to support private educational programs and award outstanding organizations and personnel. The Chair of the Chinese Association for Non-Government Education Mr. Xiping Tao commented that the 2010 National Outline has created huge opportunities for private education by clearly defining its legitimate role in Chinese education system and providing favorable guiding policies for this sector.

The root of the problem is China’s large population and relatively small number of colleges. China has a huge population, with a correspondingly large demand for higher education. If they had to rely on the state-run universities, then we would have a situation in which a lot of people would never get to college at all. At the end of 2005, China had 252 private higher education institutions, around 20 more than the total number of state-run colleges, according to figures issued by the Shanghai Educational Science Institute.

In an 06 March 2021 speech by CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, he hit out at "chaos" in the tutoring industry, calling it "a stubborn disease that is hard to manage." With a highly exam-orientated education system and mounting competitive pressure, after-school tutoring used to be indispensable for China’s helicopter parents.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on 30 July 2021 signaled it would press ahead with a crackdown on private tuition schools and other practices requiring financial input from parents in a bid to encourage couples to have more children. The CCP Central Committee General Office and the State Council issued the "Opinions on Further Reducing the Work Burden of Students in Compulsory Education and the Burden of Off-campus Training." Among them, it is proposed that all regions will no longer approve new subject-based off-campus training institutions for students in the compulsory education stage, and that existing subject-based training institutions shall be registered as non-profit institutions.

This included a slew of measures aimed at slashing homework and out-of-hours educational activities. "No new subject-based off-campus training institutions are being approved for students in compulsory education, while existing subject-based training institutions will be registered as non-profit institutions," the "opinion" said. "Subject-based tutoring institutions are not allowed to be listed for financing, and capitalization operations are strictly prohibited," it said, ordering local authorities to set up supervisory bodies to monitor the behavior of tutoring schools, known as buxiban".

The recruitment of foreign personnel in China must comply with relevant national regulations, and it is strictly forbidden to hire foreign personnel abroad to carry out training activities. On 07 August 2021, VIPKID stated that it will guarantee the normal performance of the contract for the old users who have already registered for the course. From August 7th, new course packs involving foreign teachers will no longer be sold; from August 9th, the renewal of courses involving foreign teachers will no longer be open to old users.

The moves came amid growing concern in China over a phenomenon dubbed the "chicken baby" syndrome, referring to parents dosing their children up with chicken-based food supplements to boost stamina for all of the extra hours of study they expect of them. More than 75 percent of students in primary and secondary education attended after-school tutoring in 2016, the most recent industry figures showed, and the need to hothouse children privately to get them into the best schools was criticized by CCP leader Xi Jinping in March 2021 as a barrier to boosting birth rates.

The ban on out-of-school tutoring would have a huge impact for 2021, as around 68 percent of the tutoring industry in Shanghai was given over to English teaching, according to figures from March 2021. Xu Jin, a leader of China's parliamentary advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said publicly that only around one in 10 students actually needed the English they learned. Peking University professor Yao Yang has also called for English to be removed from the current college entrance exam, or gaokao, as its inclusion disadvantages students from rural areas with less access to teaching and resources.

China's tutoring ban was part of Beijing's plan to erase any form of Western influence from the country. Private tutoring companies in China laif off thousands of staff following the ban on out-of-school tutoring by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). VIPKID, an English tutoring agency backed by Tencent, announced it would end online classes taught by overseas-based teachers, some 70,000 of whom are based in the United States. Ed tech firms Gaotu, TAL and New Oriental have all said they will make "adjustments" in the wake of the policy change, with Gaotu announcing around 10,000 layoffs. Meanwhile, Italy-based Wall Street English filed for the bankruptcy of its Chinese business next week, Chinese state media reported. The company had already slashed the number of its schools in the wake of the pandemic from 71 to less than 30, with around 1,000 employees still on the payroll. Estimates in state media suggested that some 10 million people were employed in China's once-lucrative tutoring industry.

The education policies are part of Xi Jinping's plan to decouple the Chinese economy from that of the United States. All schools will be required to use the "Xi Jinping New Era Student Reader on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics" starting in the 2021 fall semester. The Shanghai municipal bureau said "The reader is an important textbook for students to learn Xi Jinping's thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era, and an important carrier to promote an integrated foundation for ideological and political courses in primary, secondary, and tertiary education". Students using the textbooks will "gradually form an identity and build the self-confidence and self-awareness to be able to support the leadership of the party."

Veteran political journalist Gao Yu said the new policies appeared aimed at raising a new generation of Red Guards, the youthful political activists of the Mao-era Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). "Chinese students have always been forced to memorize political theory in this way," Gao told RFA. "Back in the day, we had to learn Mao Zedong Thought. Now it's Xi Jinping Thought."



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Page last modified: 06-09-2021 15:12:59 ZULU