China Works on another Round of Education Reform to Foster Creative Talents
China has been working on another round of major education reforms. A national team of government leaders, education officials, and education leaders have been working on a mid and long term strategic plan that will guide education development in China for the next decade or so for over year now. The team is led by China’s Premier Wen Jiabao. The team issued a national call for comments and suggestions in the summer and has received tens of thousands of them online and through traditional means.
I was in China last week. My school visits and conversations with educators brought to my attention a recent speech by China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, which apparently has generated another round of discussions about education reform around the country. The speech highlights the impetus for the upcoming reforms.
Wen delivered the speech in September when he visited a secondary school in Beijing and sat in five lessons (Chinese language, geography, music, math, and research methods). The written speech was published in People’s Daily, the state run national newspaper, and distributed by Xinhua News Agency, on October 11. An English summary of the speech and event is available here but if you can read Chinese, here is the complete speech in Chinese.
“Wen said China failed to foster enough outstanding talents to meet the needs of the nation,” according to the Xinhua report. At the heart of the speech are Wen’s two questions:
- Why so many people in our society have so many concerns and worries about our education despite the progress we have made over the past 60 years since the establishment of the New China?
- Why our schools cannot produce outstanding talents?
This is not the first time Wen and other top leaders of China expressed their concerns about China’s inability to foster innovative and creative talents the nation needs. “Compared with other nations, “ says Wen, “students prepared in China have a very good mastery of book knowledge but lacks the ability to make use of the knowledge and creative spirit.”
“This means that over a relatively long period of time in the past we have put the emphasis on knowledge acquisition and teaching to the test, “ Wen continues, “As a result, we have neglected to foster independent thinking and creativity.”
In fairness, China has already launched several waves of reform efforts to transform its traditional “test-oriented” education to “ability-oriented” education for the last two decades or so. But according to the Premier, “it should be noted that we have realized these problems for a long time and have been emphasizing on talent(quality)-education, but what haven’t we seen significant changes?”
The Chinese government has also been working on a long-term strategic plan for education in the next 12 years. The group is headed by Premier Wen himself. It is widely expected that the plan will introduce some bold measures to address the issue of fostering creative and outstanding talents in China to support China’s intention to transform its economy from one built on cheap labor and cheap resources into one built on innovation.
Following the publication of Wen’s speech, a number of responses from education leaders, university presidents, school principals, and teachers have been solicited and published. Some Internet forums have also been flooded with comments from netizens. These responses and comments identified the many challenges facing education in China, but a common complaint is standardization: schools are forced to turn into bureaucracies to implement a set of standardized objectives set by the government and prepare students to do well on standardized measures.
Chapter 4 of my book has a more extensive discussion of education in China and based on my analysis, the answer to Wen’s question lies in the historically rooted belief that the quality of education and the value of an individual can be judged with a single criterion or measured by standardized tests on a few subjects.