Recently Dr. Charlie Brainer of Taylor University participated in a ChinaSource Conversations discussion on “Christian Education in China: Inside and Outside the Classroom.” The following 3 Questions interview is based on some of his comments.
1. What has led to a rise in non-public-school opportunities in Chinese education?
Several things stand out in Chinese society and educational development in recent history. China has, in the last 40 years, developed from an agricultural economy to an industrial, manufacturing economy. Now, worldwide, the attention is on a knowledge-based economy which the Chinese government is, I think, pursuing. We see urbanization, a rapidly developing economy, and the growth of the middle class, all to an amazing extent in China.
2. How is the Chinese education system facing those trends?
There are two competing forces going on within China and education in general. One is building an elite education system. This is happening primarily at the higher education level but is working its way down the educational system. China has put a lot of attention during the last twenty years on developing world-class universities and research institutions. They are working very diligently on this.
At the same time the system is in the process of a very broad, what I would call, “massification.” In the late 90s only several percent of high school students were going to college or university. Now it’s almost 30 percent.
However, these are two competing strains—one that focuses on the elite, and one that focuses on the expanding middle class and providing more and more opportunities.
How do you pay for a mass system of education? Governments around the world who are expanding—and China obviously has the largest educational system in the world and is rapidly expanding that as well, especially in the higher education realm—are finding that most governments cannot afford the expansion and are turning it over to the private sector. In the same way China’s private education sector has grown tremendously in these past 20 years, and I think that will continue.
With these trends of urbanization, a rising middle class, and the expansion of education, China has a pretty big gap to fill. I think private education will be one of the primary ways to fill that gap.
Filling that gap provides an opportunity for private schools that can demonstrate a high degree of quality education. I think that the Chinese government, because they are focusing on the elite aspect as well as developing the mass aspect, are going to turn over more and more opportunities to the private sector. For many years—unlike the US, unlike Europe, unlike some places in Asia and Latin America—private sector education in China has been looked down on and has not been as high quality as that in the public education sector. But because of the great need to move to a knowledge-based economy and to move more and more of her population into that stream, China is going to have to build and develop its private education sector. Putting more trust into that system and putting more accountability in place.
Schools that demonstrate a commitment to quality education will have at least, at a minimum, tacit support of the government. If they continue to demonstrate the high quality of their education I think there will be room to grow and expand.
3. With the government seeming to exert more control over various areas of society today, do you see any tension with allowing private schools to play a greater role?
There is some tension because at a societal level, at a political level, there is a desire to have more governmental control. But as I just explained, because the education system, in response to the economy and to the world-wide need to move from an industrial, manufacturing mode to a knowledge-based economy, must expand and that rapid expansion will divert some of the government's attention. Some Christian education models outside of the legal, private model, probably will continue to encounter some difficulty but those schools that meet government qualifications for private school registration will have increasing opportunities to enter the educational sector.
For more of Dr. Brainer’s comments and the insights of our other guests on that podcast, listen to “Christian Education in China: Inside and Outside the Classroom.”