Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on April 12, 2007
First off, apologies for the dearth of posts lately. I was away for a few weeks. Back at work today, I saw an interesting item from a few days ago written by Cheng Hu, a columnist for online magazine The Globalist, arguing that India should learn from the way China has emphasized education. “I still remember vividly how speechless I was when my Indian colleague told me that in some public schools in India, teachers never or seldom show up,” writes Cheng. “If the same thing were to happen in any village in China, the irresponsible teachers would be living in contempt of the villagers. And the villagers would keep pressuring the authorities until the teachers were removed or fired altogether.”
According to Cheng, China’s economic rise is due in part to the government’s success in building the country’s school system. “This is a lesson India should take to heart,” he adds. “While many commentators bemoan India’s lack of infrastructure as the main factor preventing it from becoming an economic powerhouse, it is not the only one. A poor basic education system is a less obvious but even more imperative problem that demands a solution. Without a quality schooling system, the industrialization of India will continue to lag behind that of its giant neighbor to the East.”
China’s education system certainly still needs a lot of work. Many schools, especially in the countryside, are shabby. Despite efforts by education reformers to promote creativity, students and teachers still have to focus most of their energy on preparing for standardized tests. And China’s schools – at least the ones that I have visited over the years – are overwhelmingly male, with a handful of girls among a sea of boys. That said, though, the Chinese have made a lot of progress in promoting universal primary education and have ambitious targets to boost the number of children who go on to high school. (FYI, for more on China’s school reforms, see this BW story I wrote two years ago.) And Cheng isn’t the only one bemoaning the problems of India’s schools. Indian officials know that India needs to do a better job educating its children. For instance, see this Zee story citing Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh acknowledging that reformers have a long way to go in India. Says Singh: “Surveys of attainment levels of our school children do not give much cause for satisfaction.” He adds: “Despite our various achievements and increased financial outlays, we are still quite some distance away from the goal of every child completing eight years of good quality education.” I’ve written a lot in this blog about the infrastructure gap between India and China. According to people like Cheng and Singh, there’s a big education gap, too.