Since the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76), the education system in China has been geared toward economic modernization. In 1985, the national government ceded responsibility for basic education to local governments through the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party's "Decision on the Reform of the Educational Structure." In unveiling the education reform plan in May 1985, the authorities called for nine years of compulsory education and the establishment of the State Education Commission (created the following month). Official commitment to improved education was nowhere more evident than in the substantial increase in funds for education in the Seventh Five-Year Plan (1986–90), which amounted to 72 percent more than funds allotted to education in the previous plan period (1981–85). In 1986 some 16.8 percent of the state budget was earmarked for education, compared with 10.4 percent in 1984. Since 1949, education has been a focus of controversy in China. As a result of continual intraparty realignments, official policy alternated between ideological imperatives and practical efforts to further national development. But ideology and pragmatism often have been incompatible. The Great Leap Forward (1958–60) and the Socialist Education Movement (1962–65) sought to end deeply rooted academic elitism, to narrow social and cultural gaps between workers and peasants and between urban and rural populations, and to "rectify" the tendency of scholars and intellectuals to disdain manual labor. During the Cultural Revolution, universal fostering of social equality was an overriding priority.
The post-Mao Zedong Chinese Communist Party leadership viewed education as the foundation of the Four Modernizations. In the early 1980s, science and technology education became an important focus of education policy. By 1986 training skilled personnel and expanding scientific and technical knowledge had been assigned the highest priority. Although the humanities were considered important, vocational and technical skills were considered paramount for meeting China's modernization goals. The reorientation of educational priorities paralleled Deng Xiaoping's strategy for economic development. Emphasis also was placed on the further training of the already-educated elite, who would carry on the modernization program in the coming decades. Renewed emphasis on modern science and technology, coupled with the recognition of the relative scientific superiority of the West, led to the adoption, beginning in 1976, of an outward-looking policy that encouraged learning and borrowing from abroad for advanced training in a wide range of scientific fields.
Beginning at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978, intellectuals were encouraged to pursue research in support of the Four Modernizations and, as long as they complied with the party's "Four Cardinal Principles" they were given relatively free rein. But when the party and the government determined that the strictures of the four cardinal principles had been stretched beyond tolerable limits, they did not hesitate to restrict intellectual expression.
Literature and the arts also experienced a great revival in the late 1970s and 1980s. Traditional forms flourished once again, and many new kinds of literature and cultural expression were introduced from abroad.
To provide for its population, China has a vast and varied school system. There are preschools, kindergartens, schools for the deaf and blind, key schools (similar to college preparatory schools), primary schools, secondary schools (comprising junior and senior middle schools, secondary agricultural and vocational schools, regular secondary schools, secondary teachers' schools, secondary technical schools, and secondary professional schools), and various institutions of higher learning (consisting of regular colleges and universities, professional colleges, and short-term vocational universities). In terms of access to education, China's system represented a pyramid; because of the scarcity of resources allotted to higher education, student numbers decreased sharply at the higher levels. Although there were dramatic advances in primary education after 1949, achievements in secondary and higher education were not as great.
Although the government has authority over the education system, the Chinese Communist Party has played a role in managing education since 1949. The party established broad education policies and under Deng Xiaoping, tied improvements in the quality of education to its modernization plan. The party also monitored the government's implementation of its policies at the local level and within educational institutions through its party committees. Party members within educational institutions, who often have a leading management role, are responsible for steering their schools in the direction mandated by party policy.
In 1985, the government designated September 10 as Teachers' Day, the first festival day for any profession and indicative of government efforts to raise the social status and living standards of teachers.
The government has started the Nationwide Program of Network for Education of Teachers to improve the quality of teaching. It aims to modernize teachers' education through educational information, providing support and services for lifelong learning through the teachers' education network, TV satellite network, and the Internet and to greatly improve the teaching quality of elementary and high school faculty through large-scale, high-quality and high-efficiency training and continuous education.
As required by state law, local governments are implementing teacher qualification systems and promoting in-service training for large numbers of school principals, so as to further improve school management standards. Currently, in schools of higher learning, professors and assistant professors account for 9.5 percent and 30 percent respectively. Young and middle-aged teachers predominate; teachers under age 45 account for 79 percent of total faculty, and under age 35 for 46 percent. Teachers in higher education constitute a vital contingent in scientific research, knowledge innovation and sci-tech. Of all academicians in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 40.7 percent (280) are in the higher education sector; for the Chinese Academy of Engineering the corresponding figure is 35.3 percent (234).
Among the most pressing problems facing education reformers was the scarcity of qualified teachers, which has led to a serious stunting of educational development. In 1986 there were about 8 million primary- and middle-school teachers in China, but many lacked professional training. Estimates indicated that in order to meet the goals of the Seventh Five-Year Plan and realize compulsory 9-year education, the system needed 1 million new teachers for primary schools, 750,000 new teachers for junior middle schools, and 300,000 new teachers for senior middle schools. Estimates predict, however, that the demand for teachers will drop in the late 1990s because of an anticipated decrease in primary-school enrollments.
To cope with the shortage of qualified teachers, the State Education Commission decreed in 1985 that senior-middle-school teachers should be graduates with two years' training in professional institutes and that primary-school teachers should be graduates of secondary schools. To improve teacher quality, the commission established full-time and part-time (the latter preferred because it was less costly) in-service training programs. Primary-school and preschool in-service teacher training programs devoted 84 percent of the time to subject teaching, 6 percent to pedagogy and psychology, and 10 percent to teaching methods. In-service training for primary-school teachers was designed to raise them to a level of approximately two years' postsecondary study, with the goal of qualifying most primary-school teachers by 1990. Secondary-school in-service teacher training was based on a unified model, tailored to meet local conditions, and offered on a spare-time basis. Ninety-five percent of its curricula was devoted to subject teaching, 2 to 3 percent to pedagogy and psychology, and 2 to 3 percent to teaching methods. There was no similar large-scale in-service effort for technical and vocational teachers, most of whom worked for enterprises and local authorities.
By 1985 there were more than 1,000 teacher training schools - an indispensable tool in the effort to solve the acute shortage of qualified teachers. These schools, however, were unable to supply the number of teachers needed to attain modernization goals through 1990. Although a considerable number of students graduated as qualified teachers from institutions of Higher Learning, the relatively low social status and salary levels of teachers hampered recruitment, and not all of the graduates of teachers' colleges became teachers. To attract more teachers, China tried to make teaching a more desirable and respected profession. To this end, the government designated September 10 as Teachers' Day, granted teachers pay raises, and made teachers' colleges tuition free. To further arrest the teacher shortage, in 1986 the central government sent teachers to underdeveloped regions to train local school teachers.
Because urban teachers continued to earn more than their rural counterparts and because academic standards in the countryside had dropped, it remained difficult to recruit teachers for rural areas. Teachers in rural areas also had production responsibilities for their plots of land, which took time from their teaching. Rural primary teachers needed to supplement their pay by farming because most were paid by the relatively poor local communities rather than by the state.
Adult Education Online
The participation of big investors in online education has made it a new hotspot for investment in the education industry. Students of remote and under-developed areas are the biggest beneficiaries of online education, but online universities offer students who failed university entrance examinations and working people the chance of lifelong education and learning.
The Ministry of Education has approved 68 ordinary schools of higher learning and the Central Radio and TV University to pilot modern distance education. By the end of 2003, these schools had established 2,027 off-campus learning centers around China, offering 140 majors in ten disciplines, and had a total enrollment of 1.373 million.
The gradual spread of broadband technology has also helped online education. The China Education and Research Network (CERNET), started in 1994, is now China's second largest Internet network, covering all major cities of China. The high-speed connection between it and the China Education Broadband Satellite Net, opened in 2000, established a "space to earth" transmission platform for modern distance education, and provided an all-round network supporting environment for distance education.
Adult education is both dynamic and diverse. Schools of higher learning for adults include radio and TV, worker, farmer, correspondence and evening universities, management and education colleges; adult secondary schools include vocational, high and skills training schools; worker elementary and farmer elementary schools comprise the adult elementary sector.
The number of foreigners wanting to study in China has been rising by approximately 20% annually since the reform and opening period began. According to official government figures 195,503 overseas students from 188 countries and regions came to study on the mainland in 2007 although the number is believed to be somewhere around the 300,000 region, because the government's figures do not include students studying at private language schools. This makes China the world's sixth-largest study abroad destination.
According to reports, the Republic of Korea, Japan, the United States of America, Vietnam and Thailand were the five biggest source countries, and the number of students from European source countries is increasing. Currently the Chinese government offers over 10,000 scholarships to foreign students, though this is set to rise by approximately 3,000 within the next year.
International students are increasingly studying in China. China's economy is improving more quickly than had been predicted, i.e. sizable economic growth by 2015 has been predicted as opposed to 2050. China has already drawn the attention of the West for its growth rates, and the 2008 Olympic Games and Shanghai Expo 2010 have intensified this positive attention. Another factor that draws students to China is the considerably lower cost of living in China compared to most western countries. Finally, major cities in China such as Beijing and Shanghai already have a strong international presence.
Currently China has around 1,000 colleges and universities. Some universities, such as Beijing University and Tsinghua University, have already gained international reputation for outstanding teaching and research facilities. China has signed agreements with almost 40 countries such as France, Great Britain, the United States of America, Russia, etc., to recognize each others diplomas. Many Chinese universities now offer degrees in English enabling students with no knowledge of Chinese language to study there.