The Structural Reform of Secondary Education in China

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/EUM0000000002475
Publication Date01 Apr 1991
AuthorMun C. Tsang
SubjectEducation
Secondary
Education
in China
65
The Structural Reform of
Secondary Education in China
Mun C. Tsang
Michigan State University, USA
Introduction
The People's Republic of China (China) is a country with large geographical
and cultural diversities, as well as highly uneven regional social and economic
developments. With a population of 1.2 billion people, China has developed a
large-scale education system which attempts to "walk on two legs" through
both formal and non-formal types of education. In formal education, for example,
123.7 million, 51.8 million, and 2.2 million students were enrolled respectively
at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels in 1989. The transition
rate averaged 71.5 per cent between primary and lower-secondary education,
38.3 per cent between lower-secondary and upper-secondary education, and
25 per cent between general upper-secondary and post-secondary education.
On the other
hand,
non-formal education
is
provided through
a
variety of
means,
including adult schools,
TV
and radio education, correspondence courses, and
training centres and institutes for training at various
levels.
In
1989,
19.5
million,
15.4 million, and 1.7 million adults were receiving training, respectively, at the
primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels through a variety of schools on
a part-time or full-time basis[1]. The entire system is characterised by a
diversified structure and
by
uneven developments in terms of
access
and quality
in different parts of the country.
Since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, the education system
has experienced several major reforms. The most recent one was promulgated
by the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party in 1985. A key
component of the reform plan is the restructuring of secondary education. In
particular, the plan calls for a rapid development of vocational and technical
education so that upper-secondary education will be converted from primarily
general education to a 50-50 mix of general education and Vocational/Technical
(VT) education. This represents a large-scale change in the structure of
secondary education. It also reflects and formalises the fundamental change
in the views of
the
ruling Party regarding education and economic, social, and
political developments in China after the downfall of the Gang of Four in 1976.
This is an article on the 1985 structural reform of secondary education. The
article has three tasks:
(1)
To
examine the rationale for the structural reform of secondary education,
framed in
a
historical context of the development of secondary education
since 1949.
(2) To describe the government strategies for implementing such a reform
and to document the problems encountered.
Journal of Educational
Administration, Vol. 29 No. 4, 1991,
pp.
63-83.
© MCB University
Press, 0957-8234
Journal of
Educational
Administration
29,4
66
(3) To assess critically the changing relationship between education and
national development in China and to relate such an assessment to the
international debate on vocationalisation of education.
The article shows that, in China, education is constantly subject to social and
political conflicts in the state, and the structural reform of secondary education
is a manifestation of such conflicts. The next three sections of the article deal
with these three tasks respectively. The last section calls for a critical re-
examination of the existing policies for developing VT education in China.
The Structural Reform of Secondary Education, 1985
The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party announced its decision
to reform education in May 1985[2]. It was the first reform of its kind since
1949
in that it called for
a
major change in the system (known as
tizhi
in China)
of education, involving, in particular, drastic changes in the structure,
administration, and financing of education. The reform plan consists of three
components: decentralisation in the administration and financing of basic
education and the implementation of nine-year compulsory education; structural
change in secondary education and the development of
VT
education;
and reform
in student admission and allocation of graduates in higher education as well
as increased autonomy in operation for institutions of higher education. It
addresses two major problems
in
education seen
by
the government: structural
weakness, and administrative rigidity in education.
Reform
of
Secondary
Education:
Contents
and
Rationale
The reform calls for the change of upper-secondary education from a
predominance of general education to an equal mix of general education and
VT education. This structural change goes hand in hand with educational
streaming, which begins at the upper-secondary level. Accordingly, some
graduates of lower-secondary education can attend upper-secondary General
Education (GE) schools and some graduates can attend upper-secondary VT
schools. After completing upper-secondary education, some graduates can go
to regular university and some can go to post-secondary VT institutes and
colleges. Students who do not get into upper-secondary GE schools, regular
universities, or
VT
schools,
or
VT
institutes or
colleges
can receive some short-
term VT training before employment.
There are three types of VT schools at the upper-secondary level: upper-
secondary vocational schools (run by education bureaucracies); skilled-workers
schools (run by the Ministry of Labour and its local bureaucracies); and
secondary specialised schools (teacher-training schools run by educational
bureaucracies, and secondary-technical schools run by other ministries,
departments, and enterprises). According to the plan, the rapid development
of secondary VT education would be accomplished by converting some upper-
secondary GE schools into upper-secondary vocational schools and adding
vocational classes in some upper-secondary GE schools, building new upper-
secondary vocational schools, and by increasing enrolment in existing skilled-

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