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An education gap between China and India?

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.

Reader Comments


April 12, 2007 7:21 PM

Thanks for exposing India's weaknesses! India has long way to go yet, good news is that at least India is on good track. When foreigners talk, Desis listen somewhat. May be constant hammering from outsiders will do some good. Stop self-proclaimed greatness in all areas.
Boast of Getting rid of corruptions at all levels first and Educate more Indians.

Jia Ming

April 14, 2007 1:44 AM

The impression of China in the West has always been a Communist state with government controlled media that constantly feeds nothing but positive news about the country to its people. Judging from the over-the-top nationalism that many people from India have displayed on the BW comments, I think such impression is more fitting of India for the past six decades since its independence. China has been blessed with four generations of very pragmatic and capable leaders starting from Deng Xiao Ping. Before Deng took power, the Communist leaders like Mao were lying to the people about how great China was and how soon China would overtake Britain and the US. Since 1978, the Chinese leadership put a stop to the crazy illusion of self grandeur to pave ways for reform. For almost three decades, China switched from the glamourous revolutions of Mao to the low-profile, determined drive to modernize. At that time, the attitudes of the Chinese people have changed dramatically. Through the state-run media, a true picture of where China was in the modern world was presented to the people. There was an urgency to reform and catch up. In the case of India, I can see a faint image of the pre-1978 China in modern India. The self-grandiose attitude held by many Indians as well as the top leadership of the country is quite amusing. Like China's incessant prediction about surpassing the West three decades ago, the Indian public today is fascinated with when India will overtake China. Like the pre-reform China, Indians blame their current state of development on its history of Western colonialism and its institution of democracy. In the face of increasing calls for protectionism in the West, many Indians display a strong sense of entitlement to jobs outsourced to them by US and European companies. I have seen statements like "why shouldn't Americans face the same hardship that Indians face everyday?" on BW by Indian posters. For India to truely become competitive, Indians must talk more about where their country is in the world today, and less about where it will be in ten, twenty or fifty years. Chinese understood long ago that talk is cheap. Nowadays, the general attitude in China is "don't tell me, show me".

H. Richardson

April 15, 2007 8:07 PM

You are absolutely right, only the situation is a lot worse than you detailed in your post. India's education system is also hindered by the indecision with which official language (Hindi, English, or local official language) to teach their students... There is no national curriculum or even a general standard for India's public schools. Rich Indians send their children to expensive private schools and competent teachers want to only teach in private schools (hence why teachers in public schools don't show up). This leaves the quality of India's public schools in ever increasing shambles.

India would do well to remember that the Western world became the power it is today through the development of public education.


May 6, 2007 1:06 PM

I would suggest ignorant India haters desist from posting half-researched 'facts'. Constructive criticism is welcome, but venting your hatred just because you or someone you know have lost your jobs to outsourcing does not speak of a healthy mindset. India's NATIONAL CURRICULUM has been in existence since 1950. It is popularly called the 'Central Board of Secondary Education' and is managed by the Ministry of Human Resources.


May 6, 2007 6:01 PM

Over 10,000 india students are now studying in Chinese universities. There are many news articles about this trend and one of them was from India's Rediff: (

After the United States, Britain and Australia, Indian students are now heading towards China for higher education....Like in foreign investment, China has outpaced India in capturing the international education market. Education experts who visited China say�the Communist nation�has become the most sought after study-abroad destination. "India is just missing the international education bus. China has invested so much in higher education over the years that that the country is producing many more quality students than India. No wonder then that Indians too want to study in China," says S Gopinath, an education expert who regularly guides Indian students on getting admission to various Chinese colleges. Asian Education Consultancy, a top consulting company in southern India, says medical education in China is of a�higher quality and lower cost compared to India.


May 7, 2007 11:45 AM

An India journalist delegation last year visited one of the China’s poorest provinces, Gansu Province and one of them wrote an interesting article about the comparison between India’s poorest region Bihar and China’s poorest province Gansu. The tile of the paper is “Welcome to the Bihar of China”, in which you can find some comments on the education and development gaps between two nation’s poor regions (One significant fact India delegation probably did not pay attention to: current Chinese leadership’s long-time working experience in Gansu Province: over 15 years for President Hu Jintao, over 17 years for Premier Wen Jiabao, and several years for vice-Premier Wuyi):,curpg-1.cms

Gansu province and Bihar may not be the best comparison between China and India’s development, but it may give some clues on how China and India has progressed differently, particularly on education, R&D, and poverty reduction. The City of Lanzhou and Gansu Province had nothing when People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. But after many years of long-term planning and consistent government development support, Lanzhou is now among one of the biggest research and development centers in China with many research institutes of Chinese Academy and elite Lanzhou University (

One would be very surprised to know that poorest province Gansu has following culture icons in China:

The number one selling magazine in China: The Reader.

The birthplace of China’s number one Music and Dance Drama: The Dream on the Silk Road (recently toured Australia, France, Spain, and Portugal and will tour US in 2008 for promoting Olympics).

Lanzhou Symphony Orchestra (recently performed in Vienna Golden Hall and toured Europe).


May 10, 2007 10:30 AM

Two additional fatastic articles by india journalists on China's poorest Gansu province.

Old Silk Road discovers new prosperity,prtpage-1.cms

‘China’s Bihar’ outdoes Lalu
( )

Read these articles through, you can tell that the mutual understanding between China and India is very limited. For some background information about Dunhuang and Lanzhou, which were mentioned in above articles, please see pictures from following sites:

Dunhuang airport:

City of Lanzhou:

Lanzhou University:


September 6, 2007 10:34 AM

Hello CUP, Look about Chinese Medical colleges and scientific inventions:

Indian students those who going to study in China only the Medicine course, it doesn't mean that Chinese Medical Colleges are well equipped, in India get a admission is not a easy thing, need get a very good rank and need very hard work. Those who couldn't get good rank and who can't pay the high tuition Fee in private Medical colleges are looking other countries, in 80's and 90's many Indians went to Russian Federation, now many going to China. But the quality of Education in Chinese Medical colleges are become questionable. Then the Chinese government restricted to foreign students to only 27 colleges, in order to avoid bad name about their inadequate infrastructure in the world.

Fake chip storm rocks China’s science elite

By Richard McGregor in Beijing

Published: May 14 2006 19:25 | Last updated: May 14 2006 19:25
china flag

China’s scientific establishment has been shaken by the sacking of a dean at one its most prestigious universities for falsely claiming to have invented a much-praised “indigenous” computer chip.


September 6, 2007 10:53 AM

Hello CUP, Is it Chinese innovation, copying everything, and saying Chinese inventing everything ?

BMW, Daimler Upset Over Chinese "Copies"
The carmakers threaten to sue Chinese rivals if, at Frankfurt's auto show, they present cars with striking resemblance to German designs


September 7, 2007 2:43 PM

beggars cannot be choosers, indians come to china to get education, not the other way! Indian always brag about how good their IITs are, when you check the top university in the world, their names never show up. All that bragging don't worth a fart


September 11, 2007 11:35 AM

Hello Howard, don't speak nonsense. How long are you begging from Chinese. IITs are in top 100 in the World university list published by Times Higher education ( mostly they put their efforts on undergraduate studies ( Bachelor of Technology), don't look at Shanghai university World ranking, they used very poor statistical model.

But myself I knew, Peking university is good and have quality education.

Most of the IITs they never give importance to the Research, MNCs recruiting from IITs technocrats, not scientists, you should know it. In India for last 30 years research in the universities are neglected. Thats why we don't have any great achievements for last three decades. But things are changing slowly for last five years. Wait and see what will be the output in the near future.

September 11, 2007 7:56 PM

If the Chinese are really serious about economic world domination, they should place a strong emphasis in teaching English language in their schools and making English a compulsory second language in China.

Over here in America, I can't even buy Chinese food in a Chinese restaurant because they don't speak or understand English, so how am I going to be able to do business in China?

And you may be a customer to any of these restaurants for 20 yrs and still they will never know your name.

When it comes to linguistics, China is way behind and for that India is going to be ahead of them technologically because the Indians speak great and flawless English, and even better than 60% of the Americans.

Now compare all these to the Jews and Israelis!

When you walk into a Jewish business the first time to do business, not only does he speak English 9and may be 5 other languages), but he will want to know your name, how many people are in your family, your birthday and your occupation.

The next time you visit him, he would address you by your first name, tell you a joke to make you smile and make feel that you are a member of his family.

Is there any wonder then why the Jews are first in business all over the world?

So you can understand me if I say that I will rather do business with the Jews than anyone else.

The Chinese and the Indians should learn from the Jews if they are really serious about competing globally in technology and business.

Bob Carriage

January 6, 2008 1:58 AM

Msccrrr, you are a blatant nutbag with no sense of the world outside America. The fact that Chinese cannot speak English whilst living in America has absolutely nothing to do with Chinese living in China. That's has everything to do with your immigration policy, so currently tearing up the GOP presidential debate.

1.3 Chinese people have little use for English at this stage of their development in China, as the country is still settling down to mastering it's own national language without bothering with another one. Just see the comment above about the language woes of India.

Kindly put some thought into your comments and avoid the sterotype that most Americans' enjoy overseas - i.e. have absolutely no international geographic knowledge at all.

Katie Leung

January 7, 2008 9:50 AM

Interesting, so being able to speak English will make you technologically advanced. Never mind Japan.

Yes Sir, English is now one of the compulsory subject in Chinese schools. Apart from Hong Kong, students in Shanghai can speak decent English.


September 26, 2008 11:47 AM

While the numbe of chinese internatial journal papers rank no 2 second only to usa, the number indian is about 10th, only comparable to that of South Korean.


October 5, 2008 8:13 PM

Hey Hey Hey,

Lets not beat each other up! Why get all riled up trying to decide who's education system is the best. There is no one correct answer. Lets do our part as citizens to help those who cannot afford education rather than trying to argue who is the best!

BTW, excellent article. That said, the state of public education in India is sure in shambles. The outlay for education is not too bad either, but when you do go take a look at the school you wonder where is money is being spent. One answer - corruption!!! If in India, one could get rid of the corruption, then I think one might see things improving. The second big issue - apathy. Baring few, society as a whole don't care about the issue. So there is no pressure like in China. Parents who are poor are happy to get the children back in the job market to supplement the family income. Last but not the least even though India is a large democracy, many people (including the educated) really don't understand what it really entitles them.

Well, I am not India bashing. This is what I see and this just my opinion. Please feel free to disagree if you like :)

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