It is important to note that education is among the most impactful social institutions in a nation, which has long-term effects on the overall development and progression. The given case analysis will focus primarily on the People’s Republic of China or PRC and its educational institution with an emphasis on its distinctive characteristics, objectives, strengths, and pitfalls. In general, PRC’s education system has a multitude of purposes and provides a return to the state, but market and global forces introduce significant changes in the given social institution.
Structure of Chinese Education System
China is on its path to becoming the world’s largest superpower, capable of rivaling even the United States in terms of economic and political power. In recent decades, China has seen exceptional growth and development in all areas of development, which is why it is important to make efforts to understand how its ruling communist party was able to achieve such substantial results. Education is a major part of this progress, and the Chinese education system is not only a significant element of the labor market but also culture. It is stated that “in China, the education is divided into three categories: basic education, higher education, and adult education” (The Open University, 2019, para. 1). In the case of basic education, there are three categories, which include three years of pre-school, six years of primary education, and six years of secondary education, and each stage is mandatory to proceed to the next one (Ryan, 2019). However, higher education is divided into two types, which typically involve four to five years of university education, and three years of college programs. Lastly, adult education is mainly aimed to improve literacy among the adult population, such as people living in remote regions.
Education Quality, Equity, and Return
It should be noted that the Chinese education system was developed and established as a common good, and its success can be evaluated by considering three factors, such as quality, equity, and return. In the case of the latter, it is estimated that higher education results in “positive external returns of about 10%–14% for the whole population” (Guo et al., 2019, p. 9). In other words, it is safe to state that Chinese education as a social institution works in general. In addition, one should be aware that “the returns for urban, female, and highly educated workers are found to be negligible, while returns for rural, male, poorly educated workers are significant and positive” (Guo et al., 2019, p. 9). Therefore, the factor of equity is the strongest aspect of Chinese education since it equalizes the level of opportunity provided for the groups with lower socioeconomic status. However, the education system as a social institution does not solely include public education provided by the state since there are private schools and shadow education as well. Many Chinese parents, who have financial means, use services of supplementary tutoring, which means that students from families with higher socioeconomic status achieve better results (Guo et al., 2019). This factor alone significantly nullifies the equity effect of public education.
The most questionable part of the given social institution is quality, and the Chinese education system tries to achieve comprehensive human development. The main pitfalls of the Chinese approach towards educating its population include a heavy emphasis on excessive workload, which promotes impracticality, disconnect, memorization, and examination-centered approach (Guo et al., 2019). In other words, it does not facilitate creativity, entrepreneurship, and critical thinking. Therefore, in general, the Chinese education system is effective at improving the overall state of its population, which implies a return on investment, but its equity and quality aspects are not as impressive.
Objectives of Chinese Education
One of the most interesting aspects of the Chinese education system as a social institution is its gradual change in regards to its purpose and objectives, especially in terms of higher education. It should be pointed out that education in China was established with the purpose of making it a public good. However, in recent years, the influence and influx of private enterprises shifted the paradigm in the sector. It is stated that “higher education in China is not a pure public good, but it contributes to the public good and public goods, under political and cultural influences” (Tian & Liu, 2018, p. 638). In other words, the fact that the state does not intervene in this process indicates a transformation process being a part of the long-term goal of the education system in China. It aims to jumpstart the human development process, after which market forces become the primary catalyzers of further progressions.
Another major purpose of the education system of China is rooted in its cultural and moral aims. The ruling party of the nation uses education as a tool to preserve some form of unity through national identity and culture. The core of the educational policy is focused on “cultivating people through virtue and integrating the core socialist values into the whole process of national education in China” (Eryong & Li, 2020, p. 133). In other words, the given social institution not only provides professional competence and labor market value to the population but also promotes an agenda favoring the state and its ruling communist party.
Globalization and Chinese Education
The rapid rise of China in the international arena as an economic superpower did not leave its education social institution unaffected. The factor of internationalization of the Chinese education system is a significant one, which led to modernization and globalization of its population. The process of internationalization of education in China includes many aspects. This includes a rapid increase in the number of research-related programs, study programs linking Chinese universities with overseas universities, and the trend towards student exchange. An important component of internationalization is the desire for the exchange of teaching experience, realized through the mobility of the teaching staff. An important role is played by the active growth of interest in the Chinese language abroad (Yang, 2020). In China, the internationalization of education is a powerful lever that serves to develop the state and adapt it to the intricacies of the world market. The process involves the direction of the carriers of their education outside the country, the attraction of foreign researchers, and the active implementation of the student exchange programs.
The system of double diplomas, modular training abroad, training in China using foreign textbooks in the language of a particular country is also widespread. More and more centers for teaching foreign languages are opening. By 2011, 334,000 Chinese students were studying abroad, and from 1998 to 2011, more than two million Chinese citizens went outside of China to study (Ryan, 2019). At the same time, only 390,000 young people returned to their homeland, and today China is the confident leader in the world in terms of the number of students abroad (Marginson, 2018). Despite the fact that the number of Chinese students going to study abroad is growing rapidly every year, China wants to achieve even greater results in this indicator and generates more and more new programs and privileges. Therefore, it is evident that despite such efforts of human talent improvement, China is still losing its most valuable youth in terms of permanent emigration.
Education as an Instrument of International Partnership
The development of education in China is still lagging behind other leading countries, and this is due to the uneven development of different regions of the country, both cultural and economic, as well as due to the large population of the country. Only about 10% of China’s population of the corresponding age has the opportunity to undergo systematic vocational training (Guo & Guo, 2016). However, despite this, the education system in China is actively supported by the state and is closely controlled by it, receives dynamic development, and undergoes educational reforms (Guo & Guo, 2016). Education in the PRC is the most important mechanism for stabilizing and harmonizing society and achieving social justice.
In conclusion, China’s education system as a social institution is a critical tool, which is used with a multipurpose intent. It increases the overall labor market competence of its massive population and strives to bring equity and quality, and promotes the ruling party’s agenda and values. However, privatization makes equity and quality elements obsolete, whereas internationalization allows establishing partnerships and the use of foreign educational resources.
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Guo, L., Huang, J., & Zhang, Y. (2019). Education development in China: Education return, quality, and equity. Sustainability, 11(13), 1-20.
Guo, S., & Guo, Y. (2016). Spotlight on China: Changes in education under China’s market economy. Springer.
Marginson, S. (2018). National/global synergy in the development of higher education and science in China since 1978. Frontiers of Education in China, 13(4), 486–512.
Ryan, J. (2019). Education in China: Philosophy, politics and culture. Polity Press.
The Open University. (2019). A brief introduction to the Chinese education system. Open Learn.
Tian, L., & Liu, N. C. (2018). Rethinking higher education in China as a common good. Higher Education, 77, 623–640.
Yang, R. (2020) Internationalization of Higher Education. The International Encyclopedia of Higher Education Systems and Institutions, 1, 1-11.