Curriculum change and teacher education reform in China in the age of globalisation
Introduction: issues in education following the opening of China
The Chinese education system follows a 6-3-3-4 system. The requirement that children undergo compulsory schooling for nine years beginning at age six was mandated under the ‘Compulsory Education Law’ in 1986. Education typically spans nine years, from primary through lower secondary school. However, considering the vastness of China’s territory, as well as its economic and cultural conditions that differ across regions, China adopted a tier-based system when implementing this education policy. In 2018, the number of students enrolled in schools (primary school through university) numbered over 230 million. Such a large number is unsurprising in a country with a population of 1.4 billion. Nonetheless, China could be characterised as ‘The World’s Most Educated Country’ based on its enrolment numbers. How has Chinese education developed and come so far since the politically tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)?
Since the economic reforms that prompted the ‘Opening of China’ in 1978, China has been on a path to modernisation centred on economic development while also maintaining an annual economic growth rate of approximately ten per cent. This period saw various reforms, including the transition from a planned to a market economy, and the opening up of the country to the outside, the latter of which comprised the fundamental policy changes that propelled the country to modernisation. Education reform was an important pillar supporting these changes. In the mid-1990s, the slogan of‘rejuvenating the nation through science and education’ (kejiao xingguo was adopted, signifying the
country’s reliance on science and technology education as a means of national development. In the mid-2000s, with the shift to emphasising human resource development, a slogan of ‘strengthening the nation through human talent’ (rencai qiangguo Ad'Jilittf') was similarly adopted. In recent years, education has been considered more important than ever before, at a time when the development of human resources is critical for the future of the nation’s development and its survival in a global economy undergoing processes of internationalisation and globalisation.
The issues facing education have also changed significantly. Until the 2000s, due to the lasting effects of political turmoil during the Cultural Revolution, there was a lack of nationwide compulsory schooling, which was an urgent issue. To achieve the full implementation of compulsory education, the government took measures to eliminate school fees and also made utility’ and other sundry expenses free. As a result, compulsory education was fully' implemented across all regions in China by 2010. Reform objectives have since shifted from the widespread implementation of compulsory education to a focus on improving the quality' of the education provided. For example, as mentioned later in this section, the government is striving to make educational standards more flexible in terms of both their content and methods, as well as improving the actual efficacy’ of education through various curricula and textbooks.
The greatest issue in reform aiming to improve the quality of education lies in the correction of school curriculum, which leans towards the memorisation of knowledge due to the hypercompetitive environment of sitting examinations (known in Chinese as a ‘test-oriented education’ [yingshi jiaoyu ЛийС^Ж]). To initiate a shift away from such an examination-intensive education system, the government has introduced education reform policies to promote a ‘quality education’ (sushi jiaoyu focused on creativity' and practical ability’. The
promotion of quality education was outlined in a document published in 1999 by’ the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council of China titled, ‘Decision on the Deepening of Educational Reform and the Full Promotion of Quality Education’. In response to this document, and to prepare for education reform in the 21st century, the State Council announced a ‘Decision on the Reform and Development of Basic Education’ in 2001; meanwhile, the Ministry of Education also published the ‘Outline of Basic Curriculum Reform (Trial)’ as a guideline for curriculum reform. These documents outlined the contents entailed in the promotion and implementation of quality education, and the encouragement of quality education can be seen in education policies throughout all levels of schooling to this day. Research has begun on the promotion of quality education and is framed around the task of determining which specific skills children should acquire. In 2016, this prompted the introduction of concepts such as ‘Core Competencies’, which are a set of skills China has deemed key, and include problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Here, one can observe that the trajectory' of education reform in China is moving away from the previous educational focus, which targeted the knowledge required for sitting exams, towards a new era, which emphasises creativity and practical abilities, and also cultivates core competencies, such as problem-solving and critical thinking.
This chapter examines the philosophy’ under which education reform is currently being advanced, as well as the specific qualities and abilities that are encouraged today in young students in China. To do so, we will first examine the trajectory' of education curriculum reform (which is becoming increasingly' decentralised) to better understand the larger framework for education reform in China. We will then look at the developments surrounding nationalisation, which comprise virtue education (deyu fiS'ff') curricula and textbooks in schools.
from the perspective of civics education. Next, we will focus on the aforementioned concept of Core Competencies and examine contents of the qualities and abilities that are promoted and cultivated in today’s students. Teachers are key in the development of these abilities, and as such, our final enquiry will focus on reforms in teacher education.
Through the previous enquiries, it becomes apparent that advancing all aspects of education through education reform is a matter of national interest in China and must occur for it to remain competitive and survive in a globalised economy; the current situation is one in which the development of high-level human resources is increasingly emphasised as an educational focus.