Pilot projects aim to tackle flaws in education system

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 January, 2011, 12:00am

The State Council released a directive yesterday outlining trial reforms of the mainland's much criticised education system.

Reforms include giving more autonomy to university recruitment, popularising kindergarten education and promoting special education for the disabled.

Pilot projects spelling out target areas for reform for various provinces and educational institutions have also been announced.

Five months ago, the central government unveiled ambitious medium- and long-term education reform blueprints for the next 10 years to address pressing issues that have dogged the country's school system.

Twenty-six top universities in nine regions, including Peking University, have been chosen for trial programmes involving greater management autonomy. Meanwhile, Heilongjiang will play host to a trial university oversight system targeting academic irregularities and corruption.

Mainland universities have been decried for rising bureaucratic tendencies that have led to an increase in corruption and academic irregularities in recent years as well as killing off creativity.

To better implement some of the pilot projects, the State Council directive sets out a 10-point guideline for across-the-board reform of the school system, from higher education down to kindergarten, which has been a focal point of discontent.

Pilot projects in Shanghai's Minhang district and parts of six provinces will push for kindergartens to become part of regular public services, and projects in Jiangsu and Zhejiang are aimed at tackling the shortage of kindergarten teachers, the weakest link in mainland preschool development.

China National Institute for Educational Research professor Gao Xia said the shortage of kindergarten teachers was exacerbated by a Ministry of Education decision to abolish many kindergarten teacher-training programmes at secondary schools and make a tertiary certificate a prerequisite for a preschool teacher.

Gao said rising public discontent over the status of preschool education on the mainland was a result of poor funding from the government, with the lion's share of funding going to a few elite public kindergartens.

'Preschools in rural areas, accounting for 80 per cent of the total, have been overlooked by government,' she said. 'What the government should do in the future is to initiate more affordable kindergartens - either public or private ones - instead of squandering public money on some elite ones that already have superior infrastructure.'

Wu Hua , director of Zhejiang University's Non-government Educational Research Centre, said he would watch with great interest how the authorities dealt with discriminatory policies towards private schools.

Wu said a major form of discrimination against private schools was that pupils did not get the same access to public funds as those at public schools, which put private schools at a great disadvantage in competition for good pupils and made it difficult for them to raise teaching standards. The directive says the pilot projects should tackle some of the issues that the public are most concerned about and put in place a school system people are content with.

However the directive failed to initiate pilot projects that would delink the national university entrance examination regime from the household registration system or hukou.

Thousands of students are forced to return to their parents' hometowns from an early age in order to attend the national exams even though they were born and lived with their parents in their adopted cities for years. The central government only promised to explore ways to address grievances.

Learning curve

Main aims of the education reform pilot programme

- Accelerate the development of pre-school education

- Ensure all students have access to quality teaching in compulsory education

- Emphasise the importance of all-round development in young people

- Reform vocational schools to meet the needs of industry

- Improve the quality of teaching at tertiary institutions

- Modernise the management of universities

- Ensure colleges meet the needs of the country's economic and social development

- Better integrate private schools into the education system

- Strengthen teacher recruitment and management systems to promote quality teaching

- Improve the education funding system to create financial security for all schools