A handful of weeks back, in the ACER PISA test – the OECD's annual global assessment of students' skills (for South and South East Asia) – India came second from the bottom defeating Kyrgyzstan while China topped the list. This acts as the final nail in the coffin of India’s dented education system. In spite of arrays of pan-Indian educational programs, India still has not been able to make education inclusive for all. On the contrary, China since the last four decades has been rolling out ambitious plans to revamp their education system, which is evident from the way they are storming into global rankings.

Chinese education is a very consistent blend of Confucian theories and modern concepts mixed with Chinese national developmental policies. Chinese education, unlike ours, focuses on both socio-cultural and political aspects of the nation. The current Chinese education system extends from the guidelines that Premier Zhou Enlai gave in 1974; guidelines that are popularly known as sì gè xiàn dài huà or the 'Four Modernizations'. And what are these? The education system in China revolves around agriculture, industry, technology and defense – that, as per the Chinese, are pivotal for the country’s development. China today has installed key schools meant for highly academically inclined students. China has adopted a policy of providing nine-year compulsory education to all with a special emphasis on vocational training and higher education. This nine year of compulsory education makes a child conversant with mathematics, science and Chinese literature.

Interestingly, even rural students undergo similar training; and by the end of the ninth year of education, the rural student is at par with his urban counterpart. Contrast this with India, where a high-school student is unable to solve a basic mathematical problem or frame a sentence on his own. Moreover, Indian rural schools are mired with problems of infrastructure and above all suffer largely from the curse of teachers' absenteeism. On an average, more than 30 per cent of teachers are found absent in rural schools. In order to curb this menace, China pays their teachers based on student scores. Thus, a large component of teachers’ salaries depends on their students’ performance. Yet, there’s a balance. The better the school (based on the students' score) more is the fees they charge, thus increasing competition and quality both at the same time. Back in 2007, an article published in BBC stated, “China is now the largest higher education system in the world: it awards more university degrees than the US and India combined... The rate of university expansion has been beyond anything [that] anyone in the West can easily imagine.”

Millions of Chinese students are now abandoning colleges and are opting for vocational schools. These vocational schools are backed up by Chinese industrialists and known for producing ready-for-job candidates. In 2007, China allocated 14 billion yuan to be spent on vocational schools over the span of four years. Vocational education in China, unlike India, is not just confined to manufacturing but encompasses sectors like information technology, tourism and medicine. Vocational training was introduced in China so that educated people wouldn’t have to face the brunt of unemployment and relevant skill development is achieved so that qualified individuals have guaranteed jobs. The government has also introduced projects like the State Project 211, State Project 895 and State Project 111, where special importance is given to top top 100 higher education institutes to enhance the quality of their graduates. The Chinese ministry of education is also striving to meet global standards by inviting the world’s best researchers to work in these institutions, thus attempting to benchmark internationally. India too stressed on higher education – particularly in the tertiary sector – but faced with strong impediments in terms of funding, India is falling in terms of percentage of overall spending. The private sector too plays an important role in India in assuaging the demand-supply gap.

Back in 2003, China invited foreign universities to set up campuses; India passed a similar bill seven years later. Foreign universities have not only brought in global teaching pedagogies into China but have also elevated the level of education in the country. Consequently, China is doing exceedingly well in global rankings of late! In 2009, the Paris based Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development, representing 34 countries, released its Program for International Student Assessment, where the Shanghai region outperformed everyone else to be the top performer in all academic categories! According to OECD, China’s success is more because of its special emphasis on elite schools (key schools) where one is expected to shine par excellence. In 2003, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) ranking showed that there were 23 Chinese universities amongst 35 featured in total. The top 3 Chinese universities that entered the top 200 worldwide university ranking included National Taiwan University, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Tsinghua University. There are more on the list of the top 500, including institutes likes Beihang University (formerly known as Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics) and Beijing Normal University, which entered the ranking for the first time.

In comparison, India produced a big blank sheet! Not only does India not figure anywhere in ARWU, but it is also invisible in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and QS World University Rankings. India is way behind China in terms of even the number of universities. There are 545 universities in India compared to 2,236 in China. Even in medical colleges, there are about 630 colleges in China compared to 251 in India. The total enrollment in Indian universities is only 4.7 million compared to 11 million in China. The situation was similar some years back too when, in 2004-05, India churned out 464,743 engineering graduates while China produced 600,000 for the same year.     Read More....

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