Remove Institutional Barriers to Educational Development*
September 10, 2018
Generally speaking, our education currently conforms to the national conditions and meets the needs of economic and social development, but there still exist some prominent problems and shortcomings. These include:
• extra pressure in preschool and basic education through factors such as head-start learning and over-education, which damages the physical and mental health of students as well as increasing the financial burden and energy drain on families;
• the urgent need to improve the quality of institutions of higher learning after their rapid expansion;
• the need to take further measures to change the trend of teaching and imparting knowledge to the detriment of the all-round development of students; and
• the need to enhance the Party’s leadership over education and strengthen the Party and political education.
All these problems require further reform of the education system.
Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, remarkable progress has been made in education reform, but many more things need to be done as this is a prolonged campaign involving many factors and facets. Last year, the central authorities issued the "Opinions on Deeper Reform of the Education System", requiring that we follow the established practices and principles of educational development and the way students grow to create a vibrant, efficient, and more open education system which is conducive to high-quality education.
Our drive to modernize education should be socialism-oriented, maintain the nature of education as a public undertaking, ensure equal access to education as the basic national policy, and promote innovation in reforming the education system. We should make education available to every individual throughout their life and make study a habit and a lifestyle choice, so that people can study whenever and wherever they want to. We should guarantee equal access to education, trying to make good education available to everyone regardless of gender, region, and ethnicity, and whether they are rich or poor, or from an urban or rural area. We should make education adaptable to each individual’s needs, enabling students with different temperament, interests, and potential to receive an education suitable to their growth. We should build a more open and flexible education system to offer more choices to students to expand their path for growth and clear the ladder to academic excellence, career advancement, and upward mobility.
First, the mechanism to promote education on values and moral integrity should be improved to correct the warped evaluation system that guides the development of education. The evaluation system determines the orientation of educational development. At present, the most salient problem in education is too much pressure on primary and secondary school students due to short-sighted and utilitarian thinking. The deeper problem is that while everyone knows it is wrong, they are trapped in conformist thinking and are dragged down deeper and deeper into this quagmire of error until it becomes a vicious spiral. The concept of education for all-round development was raised over 20 years ago. Some progress has been made in this regard, but across the regions it is unbalanced. In the final analysis, the problem is the requirement for education to foster values and moral integrity has not been fully implemented in the education system – the yardstick for education is scores and admission rates for primary and secondary schools, and research papers for colleges and universities. There is no proper place or sound evaluation system for moral education and education for all-round development, which is a long-standing problem we must solve. We should get rid of this obsession with scores, enrollment rates, diplomas, academic papers and professional titles, remove their excessive influence on the evaluation of the education system, and reverse the utilitarian trend in education. Educational institutions should fully implement the basic requirement of education on values and moral integrity, reform the ways students are cultivated and schools are run and managed, transform the support systems, and build a long-term mechanism to promote the physical and mental health of students and their all-round development.
We should support qualified colleges and universities in their efforts to grow into leading institutions. But we should not place them in a hierarchy; rather we should encourage each college or university to highlight its own strengths and strive to build first-class disciplines and facilities. The guiding principles of examination and admission systems need to be changed to ensure that students grow in a normal way, that the state selects from the talented, and that social justice is enhanced. The evaluation system for schools, teachers, students, and teaching as a whole should be improved so as to put an end to the misguided practices of evaluating teachers based solely on the rankings of their students, evaluating students based solely on their scores, and evaluating schools based solely on the enrollment rates of their graduates to higher-level educational institutions. The practice of rewarding or punishing teachers based on enrollment rates alone, and the covert practice of approving projects, allocating educational funds, and assessing performance in accordance with enrollment rates should be rectified. Reform of the national college entrance exam is of immediate relevance to many and has a bearing on the overall situation. To ensure that this high-risk reform of wide concern is carried out smoothly, Party committees and governments at all levels should assume direct responsibility to check on and supervise this work and step up efforts to coordinate different departments.
Some off-campus training organizations offer examination-oriented courses, which goes against good practice in education and the healthy growth of students. They have increased the extra burden on students and financial burden on parents, and even disturbed the normal teaching order of schools, all of which has aroused strong criticisms. An industry calling for conscience should not become profit-driven. We should regulate these training organizations pursuant to the law and make them focus on well-rounded development of students.
Second, we should drive deeper reform of school operating mechanisms and education management to fully release the vigor of education. Although our country boasts the largest education system in the world, we face a rather complicated situation – unbalanced development between rural and urban areas and varying educational needs among the people. In order to run and develop this large and complex sector well, we must further our reform in school operating mechanism and education management, modernize our capacity and raise the level of governance in education by addressing such problems as inadequacy in self-restraint and self-development of schools, excessive, deficient, improper and underperforming governance of schools by governments, and lack of social participation.
At present, people complain that the government still interferes too much and involves in excessive detail with school management, stifling the vitality of schools. At the same time, the government’s role in helping schools out of difficulties is not always fulfilled. The allocation of human, financial, and material resources for schools is administered by a number of government departments, some of which simply follow age-old policies and methods. This problem must be addressed systematically. Schools have their own well-established practices and focus of work. Party committees and governments at all levels should cut unnecessary inspections and assessment; they should not ask schools to suspend classes to organize social events on campus, far less assign to schools the work of attracting investment or organizing demolition projects.
Governments can use various university rankings published by different organizations as a reference, but they should never be misled by such rankings. School management should be the responsibility of each school, and governments should delegate such powers as allocation of resources, use of funds, and performance assessment to the school itself to make it accountable for its own business.
The goal of reforming the education system is to improve the quality of education. The first focus should be improving teaching capabilities by launching reforms concerning teachers, textbooks, and teaching methodology. We should identify diverse and effective teaching methodologies and approaches to make real breakthroughs in well-rounded education. The second focus should be improving learning capabilities by promoting reforms that foster moral integrity and lofty ideals, build intellectual and physical strength, and produce the talent needed by society. We should make preschool education available to all, promote integrated development of urban and rural compulsory education, encourage diversified development of high schools by exploiting their individual strengths, bring out the full potential of higher education, raise the quality of vocational education, step up poverty alleviation efforts in education, and improve the level of ethnic minority education, special needs education, and continuing education to create conditions for everyone to grow in a well-rounded way. The third focus should be improving school administration and operation in accordance with the law. We should work out a better system and stronger mechanisms for governing schools and continuously improving education management as a whole.
Third, we should improve the capacity of education to serve economic and social development. To meet the needs of a strong modern socialist country, we should adjust the regional distribution of institutions of higher learning, optimize the structure of disciplines and the setup of academic programs, and improve the management of higher education to help universities identify their particular strengths and find different ways to excel. We should instill the idea of innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the education process, enable dynamic adjustment of disciplines and programs, build first-class universities and disciplines at a quicker pace, and promote innovation by coordinating efforts of enterprises, universities, and research institutes. By doing so, we commit ourselves to implementing an innovation-driven development strategy that focuses on cultivating innovative, interdisciplinary and professional personnel with practical skills.
We should attach great importance to vocational education by encouraging the integration of efforts of enterprises and vocational institutions, improve the mechanism which attaches equal importance to cultivating moral integrity and honing skills, and integrate work with learning. This will offer a steady supply of millions of competent individuals to our industries, and give graduates from vocational schools more opportunities for career development. We should roll out flexible and effective preferential policies, foster a culture which encourages enterprises to shoulder the responsibility of vocational education, and build a community of shared future for vocational schools and colleges, industries and enterprises.
Fourth, we should open our educational sector wider to the outside world to enhance its influence around the world. The sea and river refuse no stream. To modernize the education sector, we should be committed to the opening-up policy and strengthen mutual respect, learning and exchange with all other countries. We should promote high-level collaboration with first-class institutions around the world to introduce high-quality and much-needed resources, especially state-of-the-art technology and academic disciplines and programs that are underdeveloped, absent, or in short supply in our country. As part of our effort to train global future elites, we should develop internationally competitive education to attract outstanding students from around the world, thus making China a major world education center and a sought-after destination for international students. We should enhance the role of education in serving diplomacy, ensure the ongoing success of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms across the globe through educational exchange and cooperation, and make good friends to China of millions of people studying Chinese around the world, and tens of thousands of international students in China.
We should endeavor to train talented people with a global vision who are familiar with Party and state policies, proficient in foreign languages, adept in international rules, and skillful in negotiation and communication with foreign parties. We should target our efforts to train professional and technical personnel and management staff proficient in foreign languages ready to serve the Belt and Road Initiative, and make plans to train and encourage outstanding individuals to apply for positions with international organizations. We should move faster to build overseas international schools with Chinese features. This would help the children of staff in Chinese agencies stationed abroad, of employees in overseas Chinese companies, and of overseas Chinese businesspeople and workers to receive Chinese-language education. And this will also make it convenient for the children of overseas Chinese nationals and foreign citizens of Chinese descent to study Chinese language, history and culture.
* Part of the speech at the National Education Conference.
(Not to be republished for any commercial or other purposes.)