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Private Education in China



     Siegfried Ramler reports on a conference in China on private education. It is a surprising development. Here is an extract from his report. Those with a professional interest in the subject like Henry Levin of Colombia University and Francisco Ramirez of Stanford may wish to get in touch with Siegfried () for more information.
     " One of the prime manifestations of the Chinese market economy is the dynamic growth of private education, a phenomenon not widely known outside of China. Addressing this topic was a recent conference hosted by the Beijing Normal University which brought together more than 300 educators from all over China and from ten foreign countries. Most participants were concerned with leadership and policy issues affecting private education.
     Entitled "International Conference on Private Schools Towards the 21st Century," the three-day meeting had a dual purpose: to share and showcase the growth and achievements of Chinese education in the private sector and to benefit from the experience of foreign educators in addressing the challenges facing Chinese private schools. Beijing Normal University is a key national institution for the training and placement of teachers throughout China and well positioned for an international conference on this topic. It is noteworthy that the Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress addressed the conference and emphasized the importance of private education for the future of China. "Public schools alone, because of insufficient governmental funds, cannot meet the people's demand for education," was a recurring theme during the conference. The importance given to private education in a socialist society, perceived outside of China as inconsistent with Communist ideology, must be seen in the perspective of developments in China in the last two decades.
     Since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 70's and Deng Xiao Ping's initiatives to loosen state control of the economy, China has undergone a fundamental transformation sparked by a system which encourages private enterprise and a market-driven economic approach. This transformation is reflected in a wide range of phenomena: general rise in the standard of living; availability of quality consumer goods for domestic consumption and for export; development of a modern infrastructure with a boom in construction, especially evident in the large cities; sophistication in the application and use of technology; and communication through trade and media with countries throughout the world. This is an ongoing process, with the large cities showing most of the evidence of modernization, while substantial segments of this vast nation still struggle with challenges in economic development.
     The 1980's and 1990's, driven by the market economy and by a general openness in daily life, have also seen a significant change in the social and cultural atmosphere of China. Taking a leap into modernity, China has overcome much of the damage done by the Cultural Revolution and the repressive era under the "Gang of Four".
     The present dynamic development of China is closely linked to education and to the opportunities available to the nation's youth. While the government supports the contribution of private schools to the nation's educational needs, the underlying demand and driving force for an alternative to public schools comes from parents and from their ambitions and expectations for their child. What is the motivation of a Chinese family to spend the equivalent of several thousand dollars per year, often a major part of the family budget, on private school tuition and boarding expenses?"
     The rest of Siegfried's report deals with that.

Ronald Hilton - 1/25/00


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