EDUCATION IN THE REFORM ERA
Under China’s market reforms in the past quarter
century, the process of
becoming educated has changed in dramatic ways. China’s new wealth and
new inequalities are part of the story. However, educational opportunities and
attainment are also affected by changes in educational policy. Since the end of
the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, leaders have moved educational
policies in an economically pragmatic direction that supports and reflects
marketization, and away from a radical socialist agenda.
Three particularly important changes have occurred. First, reform era
educational policies have sought to improve quality, in order to make schooling
better serve the needs of the labor market, stimulate the economy, and promote
China’s global competitiveness. Second, reform
era educational policies have
placed a new priority on efficient use of resources, including private resources,
to support education. Third, reform era educational policies, while still
concerned with access, have displayed a new tolerance for disparities within
the system in pursuit of quality and efficiency.
To illustrate these points, this paper begins by providing an outline of
the state of education prior to market transition, under the radical education
policies of the Cultural Revolution. Next, we discuss key reform
era changes in
the provision of education, including educational policy, finance, and quality.
Finally, we consider the “outcomes” of these shifts, in the form of indicators of
educational attainment, participation, and inequality.
Most of our evidence about school provision and educational finance
comes from published governmental data. To investigate participation and
attainment, we employ descriptive tables and figures derived from unit