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Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, education has been valued for the improvement of Chinese society rather than as a basic human right. Although the fundamental purpose or function of education has not changed, there have been some structural changes. Qualified personnel have been trained, and school conditions have improved. Education reform has progressed steadily—the nine-year compulsory education program has been implemented, primary education is becoming universal, and technical and vocational education has developed. Higher education also has developed quickly. Enrollments have increased, and a comprehensive system featuring a variety of disciplines is in place. Education for adults and minorities has been funded, and international exchange and studying abroad opportunities are also available. Most types of educational reforms in China since the 1980s have led to decentralization and the granting of semi-autonomy to lower administrative levels. In addition, college education has become a prerequisite for official bureaucratic positions.

However, much remains to be done in order to provide education to most Chinese citizens. Overall, education is insufficiently and unevenly developed. The discrepancy in the quality of education between rural areas and urban areas is overwhelming. There are no reliable sources of rural school financing. Investment in education also is inadequate. Teachers' salaries and benefits remain low, and working conditions often are poor. The elitist nature of key schools and the early determination of students' majors prevent students from discovering and developing their talents and imagination freely. The "brain-drain" problem goes beyond accommodating returned students from the West. Educational philosophy, teaching concepts, and methodologies are divorced from reality to varying degrees; practical and personal applications need to be emphasized over ideological and political work in the curriculum. Furthermore, the educational system and its management mechanism cannot meet the needs of the continual restructuring of the economy, politics, science, and technology. These problems are caused by variable combinations of politics, economics, and professional assumptions about how to develop modern education in China. As the economy expands and the reform deepens, serious efforts must be made to solve these educational problems.


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—Ting Ni

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