The rise of neoliberalism in Chinese educational reforms

To understand the high tuition-charging international curriculum programs created by key public high schools, we need to look carefully at contesting social forces under China’s specific historical conditions. In this section, I will discuss the rise of neoliberalism in Chinese educational reforms, the role of key public high schools within China’s educational landscape, China’s selective examination system, and significant social class changes in contemporary China, under historical conditions where decentralization of authority, devolution of responsibilities, and marketization that have been adopted to reform education, healthcare, housing, and other social services with the goal of improving economic development, efficiency, and effectiveness (Liu, 2015; Liu & Apple, 2016; Mok, Wong, & Zhang, 2009; Wu, 2014), the (re)articulation of global and Chinese educational markets, as well as state policies that augment school autonomy. These conditions and changes were complexly articulated to form the international high-school curriculum program (IHSCP) and school choice markets in China.

Decentralization and financial diversification of education: the rise of neoliberalism in Chinese educational reforms

The educational landscape in China has been changed since the 1980s. The market-oriented economic reforms that aim to modernize Chinese society have profoundly influenced Chinese educational reforms. Education for economic development has become the dominant discourse that guides educational reform in contemporary China, as it does in many other countries (Apple, 2006; Ball, 2013; Mok et al., 2009). The Chinese government’s efforts to improve the modernization of its education system began with the reform of decentralization and financial diversification in education. This reform was initially issued by the Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party of China on the Reform of the Educational System in 1985 and was restated in the Outline for Reform and Development of Education in China in 1993 (Mok et al., 2009; Ngok, 2007). The reform emphasizes that the central government devolves financial responsibility and management of education to local governments. This education reform calls for local governments and state schools to utilize multiple channels to improve their education services and resource provision (Cheng, 1997; Liu & Dunne, 2009; Ngok, 2007; Tsang, 1996). Such school autonomy reforms encourage state schools with quality educational resources to generate additional revenues through expanding their educational services to meet social needs. This reform led to the marketization of education in China (Mok, 1997; Mok et al., 2009).

The Chinese government’s insufficient investment in education

The recent three decades have witnessed tremendous economic growth in China associated with the Reform and Opening Up policy initiated in 1978. As Mok ct al. (2009) note, since the 1980s, the Chinese economy has grown at an average rate of 9-10% annually (p. 506). However, the rate of the Chinese government expenditures in education was low. For instance, empirical evidence reveals that less than 3% of gross national product (GNP) has been spent on education in contemporary China, with spending at 2.86% in 1991, 2.41% in 1995, 2.49% in 1997, 2.79% in 1999, 3.14% in 2001, and 2.81% in 2005. Even though the number increased to 3.48% in 2008, Chinese government expenditures on education arc still below the average level in East Asia and the Pacific region and tar lower than in those “developed” countries which spend 6% or more of GNP on education (Mok et al., 2009; Wu, 2014). On the one hand, along with insufficient education investment, the Chinese central government devolves the responsibilities of educational provision to local governments. On the other hand, it encourages various types of public organization and individuals to make donations to education (National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, 1986, 2006). These historical and political realities highlight the challenges that schools face. Such conditions have driven schools to move in the direction of marketi-zation, putting a price on educational services that they can provide for families and raising funds by taking choice students (zexiao sheng, and charging high choice fees. For many schools, hence, marketization of education seems an appropriate way to deal with the challenge of insufficient government investment because it not only allows schools to update equipment, improve teachers’ welfare, and maintain routine operations but it also eases the financial pressures on local governments (Qin, 2008; Tsang, 2003; Wu, 2014). The political context described here helps us understand why the government has felt that it had to compromise and to basically give a green light to school choice, even though choice practices arc indeed still officially banned in the compulsory education sector.

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