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Rising Giants: What Can India and China Teach Each Other? John Koetsier ETEC 511 Assignment #3 – UBC
China and India are two global giants in terms of both population and land area. However, despite their size and despite the reality that both play large roles on the world stage, the reality is that they are just starting to experience their eventual impact on the world. But both of these enormous emerging countries have equallygiant challenges facing them in terms of population size, infrastructure, regional differences, poverty, and more. Overcoming these challenges and being able to deliver basic as well as higher education equitably would be huge steps towards unleashing the full potential of their people. Aggressive investments in education will help India and China grow into their size and ensure that they realize the potential they have for participation in global markets and wealth creation. The question this paper seeks to answer is: what can each of these rising giants teach each other about educating their citizens? To answer this we will examine concerns common to both countries, specific instances of success for each, and lessons each can teach the other. While it is certainly true that India and China face mountainous educational challenges, e-learning can help … if properly applied.
Similarities and Challenges The first thing that is obvious to even the most casual observer of India and China is their sheer population size. Almost a third of the world’s entire population are Indian or Chinese, including 1.1 billion Indians and 1.3 billion Chinese (UN Population Division of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007). Population size can be a good thing, as economies of scale can be brought to bear, creating efficiencies. But when both of the nations currently under discussion are developing nations which have not fully extended all the infrastructure Western nations consider basic to all corners of their lands, there are huge challenges to overcome. Both have an enormous burden to bear simply extending basic education to their citizens, as Zhang documents in the case of China (Zhang, 2005). This challenge is compounded by the fact that their populations are not static – in spite of well-known policies such as China’s one child per family. That is certainly helping, since according to the United Nations, India’s population is growing faster. But China, due to the population lag effect, is still expected to be home to 1.4 billion people in 2050 (UN Population Division of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007). The same report projects India’s 2050 population to be 1.7 billion, meaning India will likely surpass China as the world’s most populous country.
The harsh reality for the education systems of these two giants is that hundreds of millions of new students are on the way, requiring tens of millions of new teachers, and potentially hundreds of thousands of new schools. For example, if we take an extremely low population projection for India and estimate that only (only!) 100,000,000 new students will enter the education system in the next several decades, they will require 2.8 million new teachers (at a ratio of 35 students to 1 teacher) and 100,000 new schools (at a ratio of 1000 students to 1 school). The numbers are staggering, and it’s doubtful whether any nation on earth – even the richest Western nation, the United States – could sustain the kind of investment necessary to accommodate that kind of growth. Related to the first issue (and compounded by it) is lack of infrastructure. Electricity, phone service, computers, and internet connectivity are limited in rural and northern parts of Indian education - infrastructure has long been a concern in India (Jaya & Malar, 2003). The same is true in China, in which internet penetration is only reliable and available in the major cities. Even then most students do not have home access, but must use net cafes or university libraries (Wong & Schoech, 2005). It’s important to remember when dealing with infrastructure it’s not only population size and growth that matter, but the physical geography of the nations. China and India are both in the
top ten of countries by size, India with 3.3 million square kilometers and China with almost 10 million square kilometers. The challenges of extending power, telephony, utilities, and other infrastructure over such vast distances are huge, and this obviously has implications for education. Schools require infrastructure, even if only physical infrastructure, and this has been a challenge: “in reality, there is a serious shortage of schools, teachers, and other basic facilities in rural China” (Zhang, 2005). Another challenge that both India and China face is hinted at in that last quote: regional disparities. Indian rural communities are under-served with local schools, and one effect is that the more rural north has a literacy rate of 40% compared with 90% in the wealthier and more urbanized south (Sharma, 2005)1. Similar problems exist in China, where the government is working to equalize access to primary education in rural and urban areas (Zhang, 2005). Rural schools that do exist are more likely to lack resources, experience funding problems, and pay teachers less (Yongxin, 2006). Regional differences can be exacerbated by both of the above-mentioned challenges: infrastructure is harder and more expensive to provide in out-of-theway provinces, and population growth (as opposed to population shift or migration) tends to be higher in rural areas.
Note: there are other factors at play here as well, including poverty, which we’ll deal with shortly.
Poverty is another ongoing issue that affects both India and China – once again to disproportionate levels depending on where citizens live. A quarter of India’s population is under the poverty level (Sharma, 2005), and while reliable statistics are harder to come by for China, the China Development Research Foundation estimates that 150-200 million Chinese live under the international poverty line standard of $1/day (The Epoch Times, 2007)2. Poverty has real effects on the education of the young, as poor families tend to keep their children at home to work on the family farm or industry, keeping them out of the education system. Another similarity, though in different proportions, is a concern over gender issues and equity that exists in both China and India. Women in India have long been the most disadvantaged elements of society (Ghosh, 1988) and that continues today - most of India’s adolescent girls do not attend school (Ramachandran, 2003). There are government attempts to address this, but they have met with limited success. China does not have this problem to the same extent, but there is a historical Confucianism in China that perpetuates a very real degree of oppression (Liu & Carpenter, 2005). The problem (besides the fact that a whole class of people are being discriminated
It should be noted, however, that China is the “only developing country in which programs for reducing illiteracy by half and reducing poverty by half are being carried out simultaneously (National Report on Universal Education in China, 2005).
against and not receiving equal opportunity to self-actualize) is that ignoring or systematically not educating half the population is unlikely to improve either domestic wealth or international competitiveness. And the unseen problem may be that since mothers play enormous roles in the educational success of their children (Flouri, 2006), creating this problem today will likely have echoing inter-generational repercussions tomorrow.
Differences and Lessons Now that we’ve discussed many of the similar challenges that India and China face, let’s investigate some of the key differences – and their results – that might illuminate opportunities for each country to improve. One obvious difference that deserves some investigation is the vastly diverging literacy rates. While India has a 40% literacy rate in its rural north and 90% only in the richer, more urban south (Sharma, 2005), China enjoys an overall literacy rate of 93.6% (National Report on Universal Education in China, 2005)3. Literacy levels are critically
I must note that I have some reservation reporting numbers from the Chinese government without any comment or editorial. While there’s no doubt that there’s been significant improvement in Chinese literacy, there’s also no doubt that the Chinese government has the ability and perhaps the motive to report better numbers than might be justified – governments more open and democratic have been known to do the same.
important: on the one hand they are an indicator of how well a country is providing basic education to all its citizens; on the other hand they form a foundation for further learning, whether vocational or higher education. It’s likely that this key difference is rooted in different national priorities. Educational priorities in China have been explicitly linked to the “two basics:” nine years of basic compulsory education, and elimination of illiteracy for youth and young adults (National Report on Universal Education in China, 2005). In contrast, the twin priorities of India have been basic literacy and higher education, which enable professional growth and global competitiveness (Franklin, 1999). There’s obvious commonality with China on the first, but the second is quite divergent – and the results are obvious. The conflicting Indian foci – which have resulted in huge strides on higher education and global competitiveness – have also cost India in terms of literacy. But the reverse is likely also true: China’s unitary focus on basic education has cost the country some of the traction it might otherwise have in knowledge industries. For example, where the India software industry is worth an annual $55 billion US and growing, the Chinese software industry is under $7 billion US (China People’s Daily, 2007). India is the world’s second biggest software producing nation, while China’s industry is only just over 10% as big.
There are two lessons here then. One is that a strong, single focus on universal basic education can have a major impact on illiteracy. That’s one thing China can teach India. But the other lesson is that strong higher education system can lead to jobs and industries that are higher up the outsourcing “food chain” and can generate wealth for a nation. That’s one thing India can teach China. The question is: are these two mutually exclusive? Perhaps not. It’s instructive to review the ways in which China achieved its amazing literacy performance – particularly in rural China, the most difficult region. There are three models in effect: educational CD centres, satellite TV learning programs, and networked computer labs (Zhang, 2005). The first and third are excellent, when appropriate funding is available, but only the second is a truly scalable connective technology that has the potential to enable learning in a whole range of environments, from individuals in homes to classes in schools. China’s investment in the education of all of its people through e-learning technologies focuses on the “five renhe,” the five basic principles of delivering education: “whatever, whenever, however, whenever, and to whomever” (Gu, 2006). This is duplicable in India without enormous expense, within most existing constraints, and without the inherent challenges of terrestrial “last mile” infrastructure projects. Is there something China could learn from India with regard to
higher education and global competitiveness? Again, perhaps. There are a number of ways in which India has set itself up for success. First, it’s had a long policy of decentralization of education that has resulted in the ability of local educational institutions to adapt as needed to meet local needs (Bhushan, 1987). That contrasts with a very strong centralized Chinese governmental education system (Zhao, Zhang, & Li 2006) – which is hardly surprising since the Chinese government is essentially a totalitarian government whose constitution includes the words “democratic dictatorship4.” And secondly, as the world’s largest democracy, India has maintained much higher freedom of information standards than China. Particularly in the early 1990s, China restricted access to the internet in a variety of areas including education (Zheng, 2001). An electronic bamboo curtain still hangs across the internet today – the so-called “great firewall of China.” This has affected elearning capabilities (Lo, 2001), but it appears that some changes are starting to occur – though the issues of control are still front and centre as the Chinese government attempts to “strike a balance between tight regulation and flexibility” (Zhao & Zhang & Li, 2006). In the case of India, however, decentralization and open information policies have been part of the education system that has enabled
Retrieved from the Chinese news organization People’s Daily Englishlanguage website November 26, 2007. http://english.people.com.cn/constitution/constitution.html
higher learning and easy access to technical and business training. If China adopted more liberal attitudes and actions in these areas, some of the same benefits could start to accrue. Another set of lessons that could be shared revolve around attitudes toward and implementation of e-learning. As mentioned near the beginning of this paper, the influx of population that particularly India but also China will continue to experience in the coming decades is enormous – and traditional education simple cannot meet the needs. Just as e-learning is crucial to India’s business future (Kaui, 2006), it is critical to meeting India’s enormously demanding basic education needs. As a scalable education solution, it’s also an important possible poverty reduction step (Khan & Williams, 2006). But there’s a problem. India, which has a history of class and caste discrimination issues (Sharma, 2003), also has something of a negative attitude about e-learning (Sharma, 2005). This contrasts fairly starkly with China, where e-learning in the higher education sector is explicitly viewed by the government as equal to traditional education. Part of the reason for this might be that online education in China often features in-person, rigorous, and screened exams (Zhang, 2005). The point is that if Indian e-learning – at all levels of education – could be designed in such a way that it was obviously as rigorous and effective
as in-person education, and if it was promoted as such and treated as such by the India government, Indian attitudes could start to change. That would be a very welcome change, because India desperately needs scalable education solutions – and e-learning is one of them. As 100,000,000 or more Indian children come into the education system in the next few decades, will they be met by millions of new teachers in hundreds of thousands of new schools? Whether yes or no, powerful connective learning technologies such as used to good effect in China today would be an enormous help. And so could a Chinese innovation that is designed to help develop communities of learners who help each other learn. The challenge for India is, and will increasingly be: how to maintain high quality education while class sizes are increasing. China has this problem as well, and a number of researchers at the e-learning lab in Shanghai Jiaotong University have: “created an artificial intelligence system to help guide learners with similar interests into reasonably sized learning communities. The system uses a multi-agent mechanism to organize and reorganize supportive communities based on learners' learning interests, experiences, and behaviors. Through effective award and exchange algorithms, learners with similar interests and experiences will form a community to support each
others' learning.” (Yang, Wang, Shen, Han, 2007) Now, whether this precise innovation is one that makes it to market and becomes used in technologies in China and India or not, the core concept is one that can be of enormous utility in any country with quickly growing populations. Helping learners help themselves is not only a good educational principle, it may be the only thing that can rescue the Indian (and, to a lesser extent, Chinese) educational system from the coming onslaught of students. But first, Indian attitudes to e-learning must change … and the government must lead the way. One can only hope that the Indian openness to information and knowledge which came with its democracy will stand it to good stead here as well.
In conclusion In conclusion, India and China are rising giants – rising giants with appropriately gigantic challenges. Meeting the challenges will require innovative thinking, adaptation, and experimentation. But there are large potential benefits in China and India studying each other, seeing how the other country has solved or attempted to solve its issues, and learning from both the successes and the failures. China has much to teach with regard to universal basic education; India has much to teach about higher education and how it
can lead to global competitiveness. China has an attitude and vision which will serve it well in implementing e-learning throughout the nation; India has an openness to information and knowledge that could be of help in changing its attitudes toward e-learning. How both nations position and adapt their educational policies in the next decade will influence, enable, and perhaps even govern whether India and China take over centre stage in world affairs in the 21st century.
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