Major issues in education in China
While 9-year education has been universalized with a Net Enrolment Rate (NER) for primary education at 99.5%, and Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) for lower secondary schools at 95% by 2005, the problems of exclusion and inequality remain to be tackled. It must be noted that though non-enrolment i.e. children who has not been enrolled in primary schools in 2010, is small in percentage but large in absolute numbers: they actually amounted to a few million, accounting for over 50% of out-of-school children in East Asia. Despite the very low drop-out rate of 0.45% (2010) for primary education, the number of children dropping out of primary schools could be as large as 7,650,000, taking into account the huge enrolments of 171 million at primary schools.
Who are china’s excluded?
- Approximately 42,488,906 children living in the 10 economically backward western provinces of China.
- Approximately 15,830,700 children of ethnic minorities whose economic and linguistic problems result in poorer enrolment and completion levels in schools.
- Approximately 9,971,036 children of migrant workers with poor access to schooling due to high mobility, fees and special regulations in public schools.
- Approximately 4,914,857 left behind children of migrants who lack proper care and educational opportunities and face serious physical and psychological risks.
Ethnic minority children:
China’s population of 1.32 billion is comprised of 56 ethnic groups. The population of the 55 ethnic minorities (including Tibetan, Kazak, Mongolia, Uigur) is 106.43 million, accounting for 8.41% of country’s total population. Most of these ethnic minorities are located in the western region of country, like Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Tibet, Xinjiang, Yunnan etc. that are also some of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the country The children of primary and junior secondary age who are out of school are concentrated mainly in poor rural parts of western and central China, many of which are populated heavily by ethnic minorities. Tibet in south Western China, with a majority of its population constituted by ethnic minorities, has the lowest NER for primary school at 96.59% in 2008.
Migrant children : The rapid industrialization and urbanization of vast rural areas accompanied by large scale migration from rural to urban areas has resulted a major challenge to provide the basic education of millions’ children of the migrants, who either accompany their parents or left behind in the care of elderly care takers. At many primary schools in some cities, like Hangzhou, migrants’ children have accounted for over 35%, at some others, even as high as 40%. In recent years the Chinese government has issued policies to address the education of migrants’ children. A national policy directs public primary/secondary schools in localities receiving migrants to take major responsibility for the education of children of migrants. However, due to the many-fold disadvantages of the migrants in term of limited resources and hard living conditions, there remain visible and invisible disparities and inequalities, with children often discriminated at urban schools due to their lower learning achievement level; many of the left-behind children develop feelings of inferiority, insecurity, isolation and other psychological-emotional problems.
Left behind children: In 2008, the internal migrant population was estimated to be some 200 million people, of which 27.25 million are migrant children At the same time, due to Chinese policies aimed at facilitating rapid movement of labor while avoiding the social problems associated with urbanization in developing countries, there are nearly twice as many children left behind in rural areas by migrating parents – a total of 55 million left behind children, representing one out of six children in China. Approximately 48.48 million are under 14 years of age. Left behind children may be more emotionally withdrawn, tend to have lower self-esteem than their peers and lack the confidence and support necessary to meet their full potential. These factors also have a profound impact on the children’s emotional, physical, educational and psychosocial development and well-being. Left behind children are more prone to drop out of school, especially in junior high school. Moreover, dropping out of school has been linked with an increased risk of juvenile delinquency as well as child labor.
Examination driven practices
A major problem in education in China has been examination-driven practices in coping with intensive competition for college entrance, with over emphasis on total scores in ‘core subjects’ (mathematics, Chinese language and foreign language) for all college applicants, and additional two subjects of ‘physics’ and ‘chemistry’ for science-technology-engineering programme applicants, and ‘History’ and ‘Geography’ for liberal arts/social/human sciences programme applicants. As a result, what is measured became important, leading to neglect of pupils’ moral, physical, and aesthetical and work skills development. Since late 1990’s China has been promoting ‘Quality Oriented Education’ or ‘human competencies-based Quality Education’ (‘su-zhi-jiao-yu’) to counter balance the examination-driven practices. After the schools adopted new curriculum, one key challenge is how to assess children’s learning achievement. This requires assessing the level of life skills applied in real-life situations, which is a major shift from examination-oriented, role-learning practices in Chinese schools for long. Despite many research studies and experiments there are no widely agreed policy guidelines on learning assessment in new contexts. With a National Center for Monitoring and Assessing Basic Education Quality established most recently, the MoE is developing indicators for adequate measurement of educational quality defined in the new curriculum.
Issues of Safety and Protection
A safe, healthy and protective learning environment is a key factor in child-friendly quality education and an essential condition for the development of all children. There have been various cases reported on injuries and death of school pupils due to transportation accidents, natural disasters, polluted waters, drowning corporal punishment, and other causes. In developing an enabling learning environment for quality education in the interest of children’s healthy development, the MOE issued in 2004 a policy document on Further strengthening of School Safety, calling for policy actions on improved management and reporting of school safety and divided institutional responsibilities. The central authority has been making policy interventions in building ‘harmonious schools’ as peaceful learning communities
Teachers are a key determining factor of education quality and the most important facilitator of learning. In view of the average educational attainment level of school teachers in China, teachers’ continuing training and professional development is becoming increasingly essential not only to students’ learning acquisition but to their contribution to the achievement of national twin goals of educational equity and quality. A major challenge has been the development of teacher’s professional skills both in classroom practices and in dealing with the needs of the children from vulnerable groups.