By Ikenna Emewu
Nigeria and China coincidentally have the same National Day – October 1.
When China’s Communist Party struggles with the ruling Kuomingtan Party ended in 1949, a new People’s Republic of China was adopted on October 1 of the year. From this datum point, the China People’s Republic on October 1, 2019 was 70. There have been 70 years of moving from the valley to the spur through thorns and spikes.
Evaluating China’s history through education is as interesting as its general odyssey.
As Nigeria celebrates 59 with its own peculiar education development history, China seems to have gone through a more tasking but fruitful education development that had few years of interruption when between 1966 and 1970 the university system seemed abrogated during the Cultural Revolution and rejuvenated in 1970 with full revival in 1977 after Deng Xiaoping had come to power. The entrance examinations for higher school admissions for three straight years had a backlog of over 18m people whose education had been interrupted or denied. That gave back hope of higher education to over 848,000 new scholars who returned the country to university education.
In the past 40 years China has had a very rapid and consistent education development as fast as the unprecedented pace of its economy.
From 227 higher institutions in 1949 to a rapid growth to 841 in 1958 and to 1,289 in 1960 and an eventual crash to 407 in 1965 and to zero between 1966 and 1970 when the Cultural Revolution forced a closure of all – that was the odd history before it re-incepted.
As the new era for education reforms came, school enrolment also increased. For instance, middle school graduates that went to high school increased from 40.6% in 1990 to 90% in 2011. China school age population today is 28% of the population or 392m, a growth of 20% from 1.4% in 1978 when reforms started. The percentage of primary school graduates that enrolled in secondary likewise, rose from 32% in 1962 to 86% in 1978 and 98.3% in 2011.
Most of the upping in education rate started in 1986 when the government passed the free basic education law that guarantees free first nine years of education to every Chinese child and that covers primary and junior secondary education. This is ingeniously graded according to regional education development. In the minority ethnic groups such the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the free education duration is 12 years covering the entire primary and secondary education. We visited schools in the region as witnesses in 2016. Still in more backward regions like the Tibet which we also visited in July, 2016, and some other minority groups within it, the free basic education stretches to 15 years. The policies that have been implemented with precision have worked the wonders of awesome lift in mass and quality education.
The 1986 compulsory education law has created the possibility of above 99 percent of the school-age children receiving universal nine-year basic education, according to the Ministry of Education sources.
In June 2019, 10.31 million students took the National Higher Education Entrance Examination (Gao Kao), as investment in education accounts for about 4% of total GDP.
China today operates the world’s largest education system and this is exemplified in the data that: “In April 2019, the Ministry of Education announced that 492,185 international students in 1,004 schools were studying in China in 2018. That has been a significant steady increase over the years.
China has increased the proportion of its college-age population in higher education to over 20 percent now from 1.4 percent in 1978. This in raw figure translates to 28% or 392m students’ population from what it was in 1978.
According to the statistics of 2017, the net enrollment rate of primary school age children was above 99%. In the same year, there were altogether 176,718 primary schools with an enrollment of 101.6m students and there were total of 77,018 secondary education schools with an enrollment of 84.25m students.
In the same period “there were 2,631 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), among which 1,243 were universities, 265 were independent colleges and 1,388 were higher vocational colleges. There were also 282 higher education institutions for adults. In 2017, the total enrollment of undergraduates in the regular HEIs was 27,535,869; 2,639,561 postgraduate students and 5,441,429 students in adult higher education institutions,” according to chinaeducationcenter.com
The same source revealed that: “Reforms of higher education consist of five parts: reforms of education provision, management, investment, recruitment and job-placement, and the inner-institute management, among which management reform is of most importance and difficulty. The overall objectives of higher education reform are to smoothen the relationship among governments, society and HEIs, setting up and perfecting a new system in which the state is responsible for the overall planning and macro management while the HEIs follow the laws and enjoy the autonomy to provide education according to needs of the society.”
Phased reforms and private varsities
In 1993, as market reforms deepened, the government issued a Program for Education Reform that allowed the establishment of private universities.
Under this policy, some new colleges were founded by non-government entities, which symbolized a major change in the Chinese higher education structure. College enrollment experienced an unprecedented growth. According to 2007 Ministry of Education statistics, “in 1990, less than 4% of the 18-22 age group was enrolled as students in higher education institutions compared to 22% in 2005,” says chinacenter.net
Likewise, on 29 August, 1998, the Higher Education Law was passed and implemented from January, 1999, the first of its kind in China’s education history.
By the end of 1998, 84 national training bases of talents from basic disciplines of science, 51 for basic disciplines of arts, 45 for engineering disciplines and 13 for economics had been set up. The bases attracted lots of outstanding high school graduates, thus the quality of students was improved obviously and the initiative of the teachers increased unprecedented, as chinaeducationcenter.com reported.
“In recent years, taking full advantage of their talents, knowledge, science and technology, the HEIs emphasized the practical research and development in the light of economic construction and made great effort to serve the central task of economic construction while at the same time strengthening basic research. The HEIs have taken part in the construction of science parks, establishing high-tech enterprises run with industries, teaching and research together to turn the scientific and research fruits into real productivity for the society.
For example, with its own advantage of talents and technology, the Fourder Group run by Peking University not only revolutionized the printing industry, but also occupied 90% of Chinese newspapers’ market. The Group has thus integrated industry, teaching and research into reality,” said chinaeducationcenter.com
Within the past 20 years, China forged educational cooperation and exchanges with 154 countries, sent 300,000 students to over 100 countries to study. Her 1,800 teachers and experts taught abroad just as it employed 40,000 foreign teachers and experts. Three years after in April 2019, “the Ministry of Education announced that a total of 492,185 international students were studying in China in 2018, enrolled in over 1,004 higher institutions and on a steady increase,” chinaeducationcenter.com reported.
These countries include her counterpart African states on the platform of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) under which in 2015 at the Johannesburg Summit, President Xi Jinping promised China would train up to a 10,000 Africans within three years. These trainings come as short courses for experts and as degree courses for students at the undergraduate and post graduate levels, including courses on Chinese culture and language. After 58 Nigerians left on scholarship in August 2019, the number of Nigerians studying in China on government bills was about 6,200.
On March 31, 2016, a short documentary on the educational system in China aired on CCTV News channel on the inroad of international schools in the country, especially Shanghai. The narrator said that while the schools come with international or foreign curriculum, the China education system insists they must include the basic subjects every child must learn in Chinese schools and they are the history of China and its geography. So, while China meets and blends with the world, it has never destroyed its core identity, which is the best for self-preservation.
The practical reforms have paid off with three top Chinese universities – Tsinghua, Peking and Zhejiang rated among world top 70. And Tsinghua is today known as the Stanford University in Asia because of its penchant in producing the best ICT experts that drive the Chinese tech reforms.
China has increased the proportion of its college-age population in higher education while at the same time improving the quality of education through a major effort at school curriculum reform. It has also sustained a consistent teacher development system as teaching has historically been and remains a highly respected profession.