Educating the Dragon: Education System in China

Young Chinese Students

The Education System in China is considered one of the main caterpillars for China’s economic growth. Advancements in technology as well as the rise in quality of life around the world are mostly attributed to liberal education systems in the West. The fruits of the reforms in the education system in China have yet to be fully appreciated, yet these are surely to propel China in the 21st century

Western dominance of the globe did not come about because of advancements in technology, or the pillaging of natural resources, or the enslavement of others, or even world war. It came about because of revolutions in education. Throughout modern history the introduction of compulsory liberal education has been the catalyst that sparked the development of nations. As soon as information begins trickling down beyond the hands of the elite, the common man has always found the means by which to empower her or himself, thereby unleashing the full potential of their country. Now this same progress is underway in the world’s most heavily populated nation. This, more than any other factor, is tipping the scales of power back to where they have been for the majority of the past two millennia, China.

Watch: Education System in China Reforms


Examples of the impact had by education systems on the advancement of nations can be seen throughout history:

England: The Church of England began enforcing attendance at grammar schools while the government began instituting apprenticeship programs towards the end of the 17th century. A century later the nation boasted artisans in every field along with a throng of well educated, able-bodied men who could be sent to every corner of the globe to fuel the empire upon which the sun never set.

Japan: The public education system set up in Japan under the Meiji Restoration galvanized a people who only a few decades later shocked the world by defeating the Russians and conquering Manchuria and the Korean peninsula. They would go on to play a leading role in the world throughout the 20th century.

United-States: America began instituting compulsory education in the 1870’s; a generation later it rivaled the entrenched European powers as the centre of world economic prosperity.

South Korea: In South Korea the willingness of individuals and the government to invest in education ever since the Korean War pushed industrialization onto the peninsula at a speed the world had never seen before. The country has since gone from a third world backwater on par with North Korea in the 50’s, to the 12th largest economy in the world today. Subsequently adult literacy in the country has risen from 22% in 1945 to presently being the highest in the world.

The list goes on and on.

Reforms in the education system in China, implemented under the guise of Deng Xiaoping in the 80’s, are only now beginning to bear fruit. There is a top of layer of society that is incredibly well educated and who has been able to take advantage of the opening up of the country over the last three decades. What will happen when soon a much larger portion of the population has those same tools needed to take advantage of all that the country’s new found wealth has to offer?

The transformation in the education system in China is under way. In a generation China has gone from fiddling with abacuses to competing with some of the best education systems in the world. I have worked as an educator in Asia for much of the last five years and have seen the results. Everything is changing; the institutions are evolving, the teaching methods are improving, and the schools are progressing. These reforms in the education system in China were first implemented in the big cities and have already had a startling impact.

A study done by the OECD ranked Shanghai high schools students first in the world in terms of reading, science, and math. The methods practiced in Shanghai are being filtered down to every county and township across China. It is only a matter of time before its 1.3 billion citizens are able to reap the same rewards.

Education inevitably brings with it demands by those who are educated. No longer are educated persons content with the opportunities presented to them by their immediate surroundings; they broaden their scope and are able to take in the full range of possibilities available to them.

“A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education he may steal the whole railroad.” -- Theodore Roosevelt

Continue reading about the education system in China in part two

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About the Author

Benjamin has been teaching and studying in East-Asia for much of the last five years. Born in Kenya but raised in Canada, Benjamin now lives in Shanghai where he has been working and studying since the summer of 2010.