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Chinese Education: From Hallowed to Hollow


For the fourth straight year in row, the number of college hopefuls taking the national university entrance exam, or gaokao, has dropped. Analysts trace the decline to a corresponding drop in the number of children born at the beginning of the last decade due to China's one-child policy. However, the decrease also suggests two realities facing young people in China today.

The promise of college education is not what it used to be. Whereas a college education has traditionally been seen as a ticket to a well-paying, stable job, a growing number of college graduates are unable to find work. As of the fall of 2010, one quarter of that year's college graduates were still unemployed.

The other reality is a growing awareness of the inability of the Chinese education system to truly educate. In contrast to the relatively recent drop in high school graduates taking the gao kao, the number of students going abroad for undergraduate study more than tripled from 2004 to 2009.

At stake is not only the ability to find a job after graduation, but, more fundamentally, the ability to compete in a global marketplace that values critical thinking skills, creativity, and effective social interaction competencies that are overlooked in China's current education system. By focusing almost exclusively on test taking from kindergarten through university, Chinese schools promote a culture of rote learning that offers little incentive for developing life skills. Nor, contrary to thousands of years of educational tradition, do schools today provide much in the way of moral guidance.

Beijing university professor Jonathan Li, writes in the ChinaSource Quarterly about how the once hallowed goal of learning for the sake of contributing to society has been replaced by the hollow goal of passing tests in order to get ahead. Read his assessment, "The Missing Goal and the Absence of Freedom", for a deeper look at the education crisis facing China today.

Brent Fulton

President of ChinaSource. Follow Brent on Twitter - @BrentSFulton.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource.  Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio