On December 10, the Ministry of Education (MOE) held the fourth of its 2020 press conference series reviewing the country’s basic education achievements during the 13th Five-Year Plan (the 13th FYP) period (2016-2020). Attendees to the event included Lv Yugang, Director-General of the Department of Basic Education under the MOE, Yu Weiyue, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Basic Education, Mao Jie, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Education of Henan Province, Cui Changhong, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Education of Sichuan Province, and Zhang Zhiyong, Executive Director of the China Education Policy Institute of Beijing Normal University. MOE spokesperson Xu Mei served as moderator at the conference.
“Since 2015, historic progress has been achieved in providing more equitable and higher quality basic education, lifting China to the ranks of upper middle-income countries by educational development status, and increasing people’s sense of fulfilment and happiness,” Lv said.
From ensuring universal access to basic education to improving educational quality
“The value put on basic education has been unprecedented,” Lv said. During the 13th FYP period, the Party Central Committee and the State Council further attached great importance to basic education and made a series of major decisions to press ahead with reforms to basic education for a new era. The General Office of the State Council issued a circular requiring efforts to reduce the dropout rate to ensure the full implementation of compulsory education.
By the end of 2019, 94.8 percent of school-age children were in education, marking an increase of 1.8 percentage points over 2015. As of November 30, 2020, the number of dropouts nationwide declined to 831 from approximately 600,000 in 2015. 200,000 students who had dropped out of school returned to education, laying a solid foundation for achieving the goal of cutting the dropout rate to less than 5 percent by 2020. “In order to slash the dropout rate, we have put in place an effective mechanism to ensure compulsory education is fully implemented. It eventually will help make dropping out a thing of the past,” Lv Yugang said.
This achievement is the result of the joint efforts of local party committees and governments across the country. In Sichuan province, where the largest number of dropouts had been reported, high-level direction and coordinated efforts by multiple departments helped brought down the dropout rate.
“We cracked down on child labour. We set up checkpoints at key traffic junctures in Liangshan Prefecture during the Spring Festival, and persuaded nearly 3,000 students to give up going to cities for work,” Said Cui Changhong, Deputy Director of the Sichuan Provincial Department of Education. So far, 99.9 percent of dropouts have returned to school across Sichuan, and efforts to enforce compulsory education have paid off.
During the 13th FYP period, access to senior secondary education was improved. By the end of 2019, the national gross enrolment rate at senior secondary education level reached 89.5 per cent, marking an increase of 2.5 percentage points over 2015. The gross enrolment rate exceeded 90 per cent in 28 provinces, and the remaining three provinces are on track to achieve the 90 per cent target this year.
In terms of special education, children with disabilities are receiving more care. Statistics show that 95 percent of children with disabilities were in compulsory education by the end of 2019. “As well as providing universal access to compulsory education, we have further made preschool and senior secondary education widely available, with 226 million students studying in some 510,000 kindergartens, and primary and secondary education schools. We are about to fully accomplish the goal set by the central government - making basic education available, accessible and equitable, and developing high quality basic education,” Lv said.
Better infrastructure for higher quality education
The infrastructure in rural schools has improved substantially, and oversized classes in urban schools are almost gone. Since 2015, the central government invested heavily to build modern facilities in rural schools in economically disadvantaged provinces, in an effort to promote balanced development of compulsory education in urban and rural areas. In addition, the rural-urban gap in staffing standards, per student public expenditure and basic equipment allocation standards has been significantly narrowed. By the end of 2019, some 309,000 compulsory education institutions (99.8%) nationwide met infrastructure targets set at the beginning of the FYP period. 95.3 per cent of counties passed the balanced compulsory education development appraisal.
During the 13th FYP period, emphasis was put on reducing class sizes and expanding the availability of educational resources in rural areas. By the end of 2018, super-sized and over-sized classes at compulsory education level dropped by 3.98 per cent and 0.24 per cent, down 10.1 and 4.8 percentage points respectively compared to 2015. “Generally, over-sized classes in urban schools have been eliminated,” Lv said.
According to Zhang Zhiyong, Executive Director of the China Education Policy Research Institute of Beijing Normal University, with universal access to all levels and types of education guaranteed, China’s basic education has entered a new stage where the major task is to provide quality educational service.
To bolster moral education, the MOE formulated the Guide to Moral Education in Primary and Secondary Schools setting out goals and objectives for different stages of learning, long-term safeguards, and teacher capacity building requirements.
The 13th FYP period witnessed across-the-board curriculum and teaching reforms. The National Conference on Teaching and Learning in Basic Education was held, during which the MOE established the Steering Committee on Teaching and Learning in Basic Education to better guide targeted reforms. A new set of curricula incorporating morality and the rule of law, the Chinese language and history subjects was developed and adopted. New teaching materials and curricula for senior high schools are now being used in 20 provinces.
“ITC technology has been widely used in education and teaching,” Lv said, noting that under the “Education + Internet” strategy, new IT solutions and teaching models were used to expand learning beyond brick-and-mortar classrooms and facilitate the sharing of quality educational resources.
More generous compensation packages were offered in recognition of teachers’ contributions, giving them a stronger sense of gain. In Henan, hardship allowances and seniority benefits were provided for rural teachers. In 2019 alone, the province earmarked 4.1 billion RMB as bonuses for teachers, and 4,643 units of apartments were built for rural teachers.
Comprehensive reforms and new breakthroughs
“During the 13th FYP period, comprehensive educational reforms made strides, clearing a range of legacy institutional and systemic obstacles,” Zhang said.
The MOE, in conjunction with eight other ministries, issued the Opinions on Further Energizing Primary and Secondary Schools in response to persistent problems, such as excessive regulation and supervision, inadequate motivation and safeguards, and poor school management. The document provides strong policy and institutional support for expanded autonomy of schools in the selection of teaching methods, human resource management and use of allocated budget.
At senior high school level, curriculum and gaokao reforms went hand in hand. 14 provinces experimented with new course selection models and teaching methods in tandem with college entrance exam reforms. Student development counselling systems were established as part of a new evaluation regime that assesses students’ performance from multiple perspectives. The MOE issued the Guide to Evaluating the Quality of Compulsory Education, presenting an evaluation system oriented to developing well-rounded future talent, and overcoming the tendency to gear efforts solely toward achieving high scores and college admission rates.
The MOE also proactively responded to and addressed basic education issues of great interest and importance for millions of families. Thirty measures aimed at alleviating the academic burden on pupils were implemented. In 36 major cities, 22.2 percent of primary schools and 56.4 percent of junior high schools launched after-school tutoring services. Targeted measures were introduced to regulate the operations of out-of-school online and offline training institutions. The number of national-level competitions for primary and secondary school students were cut down from 105 to 35.
Admissions were effectively regulated. In 24 major cities, 98.6 percent of students were assigned a junior high school closest to their homes upon finishing primary school without having to undergo a screening process, thus ensuring educational equality. 85.3 percent of children of migrant workers were enrolled in government-funded or sponsored schools. Private schools now enjoy a level playing field in admissions, and thus are motivated to focus on teaching, rather than “poaching” the best students from government-funded schools. Lv said that the MOE would further implement strategies developed by the central government, in order to better meet the needs of the people for more balanced and equitable, and higher quality basic education.