China’s early education plan a smart investment in the future

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

South China Morning Post, February 20, 2015

Frank-Jürgen Richter says educated youth will bolster ageing state.

China is currently emphasising that its national education goals must be met by 2020, one of which is to get 70 per cent of children into kindergarten. As in ancient times, modern China accepts that education is crucial for future success. A key feature is to begin education early, at home and in kindergarten.

The focus is not only on education but also good nutrition and ensuring that parents are aware of the best practices for childhood development. In towns and cities, they are readily addressed, but in rural enclaves, it is more difficult.

A pilot project in two remote regions in Qinghai and in Henan provinces begun in 2009 has been studying nutritional intervention for children aged two and over and better health management for three to six-year-olds. The results are promising: with a better diet and parental guidance, the children’s performance has improved. Many developed nations know the benefits of good nutrition during the first 1,000 “golden days” of childhood.

Further, detailed testing of educational progress is needed. India’s annual school education survey reaches over 560 districts each year, testing whether some 650,000 children in more than 16,000 villages know, with increasing complexity, letters, words, sentences and a paragraph. There is also an equivalent maths test. The Indian government was appalled by the poor results in 2009 and vowed to do better – which is happening. Such things are also improving in China. Although it begins from a higher baseline than India, there are problems nevertheless: long distances from rural homes to schools, a lack of good facilities at the schools and a shortage of teachers willing to live in the countryside.

Migration from the countryside to towns and cities is happening on a grand scale in China; some 400 million people are forecast to become economic migrants within the next two decades. China has been developing its “go west” strategy to open up the interior, to guard against overwhelming the high-value economic zones on the coast. More recently, it has built many new towns along the new high-speed rail routes in the hope of capturing the economic migrants before they converge on coastal cities.

These cities have well designed facilities – health centres, kindergartens, junior and secondary schools, all with local transport facilities, which are bound to attract teachers. Local markets and good transport links to workplaces will draw in parents and commerce. All these factors will increase local wealth, spending, and local GDP, reducing the pressure on the state to build up coastal economic centres beyond sustainable levels. And an emphasis on early-days nutrition and schooling will ensure a better-educated state, one that is better able to sustain the needs of the state, given its rapidly ageing population.

China is moving from a society that seemed intent only on building its physical assets while forgetting its workers. Now, it is clearer that the government’s focus is on wholesome growth. A well-educated population will discuss before rebelling, and with less social unrest, the police will be less inclined to suppression. Good education for all will ensure that new proposals are understood more, and feared less. Through trust, the population will further support government developments.

This may sound like a utopia. Yet, there will be many who want to further their own aims – China needs innovative people to develop. But to do this only for personal glory will cross an ill-defined line. Fast-developing nations have to evaluate guidelines frequently and explain their reasoning to their people. China will be better able to do this in the future, thanks to its social interventions.

Frank-Jürgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global visions community.