By Professor Hualing Xue, Standing Director and Executive Deputy Secretary- General, Chinese Adult Education Association.

2018 marked the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up. Over this time education in China has undergone an earth-changing change. It is also an extraordinary 40 years in the history of reform and development of adult and continuing education in China. The tremendous social and economic growth and progress in China has proved that “a nation that is rich in education is a very strong and solid nation”. The Chinese literary giant Xun Lu said that “Originally there was no path in this world, but after many who have walked upon it, a path came into being”.

Deng Xiaoping rose to power in 1977. The first decision he made was officially resuming China’s National Higher Education Examination (known as Gaokao).

It was a good rain after a long drought, but it couldn’t dampen every piece of land. Gaokao resulted in tens of thousands of soldiers and horses crossing a single log bridge. Deng Xiaoping very soon noticed this situation. In the opening ceremony of the National Education Working Conference in April 1978 Deng Xiaoping emphasised that economic development requires both Gaokao and the vigorous development of adult education.

During Jiang Zeming and Hu Jingtao’s administration adult education in China developed rapidly, becoming part of a troika – qualification education, continuing education and community education – all moving forward together.

In 1998 the State Council of China approved the Ministry of Education’s Action Plans for Revitalizing Education for the Twenty-first Century. This is a very important document which clearly points out the importance of lifelong education. The document affirmed that adult education must be focused on workplace training and continuing education. This Action Plan also launched experimental work on community education, with the aim of gradually establishing and improving a system of lifelong education.

In the year of 2000 the Ministry of Education published Notice on Launching Experimental Work for Continuing Education in Some Regions. This document started a new phase in developing a community educational experiment. In 2004 the Ministry of Education issued Opinions on Promoting the Educational Work in the Community, which became the first important policy document for guiding China’s community education development.

The main features of the community education in this phase were: managed as a whole by the governments of different levels; used community education experimental areas as the basic models; used streets, towns, residential villages in urban and rural areas as basic experimental units; focused on educational experimental projects; based on strengthening the construction of basic security conditions; led by educational administrative departments; coordinated by various relevant authorities; implemented by communities in urban and rural areas; and participated in by residents in an organised way.

Some experimental and demonstration community education projects have been evaluated. Civil society organisations have played a role in working with communities along the Yangtz River Delta, the Bohai River Rim and the western region of China – to build platforms for non-governmental exchange and discussions.

Lifelong learning platforms

Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, adult and continuing education aligns ideological and strategic blueprints with the construction of platforms for lifelong learning – with the goal of building a learning society.

The Outline of the National Medium and Long Term Programme for Educational Reform and Development Plan (2010-2020) issued in 2010 proposed that by 2020 China will have a modern education system where all people will have the opportunity to engage in lifelong learning. This will partly be achieved through increased participation in continuing education.

The China National Open University, which was developed from the Central Radio and TV University, was formally opened on 31 July 2012.

In 2016 nine departments including the Ministry of Education China published “Opinions on Further Promoting the Development of Community Education. This document proposed a community education development model, with Chinese characteristics, to facilitate access to lifelong education.

Education for the elderly is an important part of China’s educational objectives. The Notice of the General Office of the State Council on Printing and Distributing the Education Development Plan for the Elderly (2016-2020) recognised the importance of having a strategy for an ageing population – satisfying the diverse learning needs of the elderly, improving their quality of life and promoting the social harmony.

The Notice of the 13th Five Year Plan for the National Education Development issued in 2017 by the State Council of China promotes the construction of learning cities.

In 2013 the Ministry of Education of China and UNESCO co-organised the first International Conference on Learning Cities and published Beijing Declaration on Building Learning Cities.

In 2014 seven departments including the Ministry of Education issued Opinions on Promoting the Construction of Learning Cities clarifying the objectives and tasks required, with indexes for assessing and evaluation. A series of activities was also provided to support the development of learning urban districts (counties and cities), learning organisations, learning communities and learning families across the country. These activities accelerated the construction of learning cities in China.

National Education conference 2018

China’s National Education Conference was held in 2018. China has made historic achievements in education reaching medium to top rank internationally. Changes have happened in four aspects:

The first is the change of educational perception: understanding the importance of education is getting deeper and deeper. A strong country must have strong education nurturing rounded young people who can engage in the socialist cause.

The second is the provision of education. China now provides nine-years of compulsory education, has made high school education basically universal, and has achieved leap-frog development in postgraduate education.

The third is the gradual improvement of education laws: Compulsory Education Law, Higher Education Law, Vocational Education Law, Teachers Law, Non-state Education Promotion Law. All have now been established.

The fourth is the prosperity of education science. Over the 40 years the theoretical system of socialist education with Chinese characteristics has been set up and educational theories have developed significantly. The research outputs have been fruitful.

China needs to walk its own path and tell its own story in developing its education. The National Education Conference 2018 proposed that China will prioritise the development of education in alignment with the Nine Adheres:

  1. Adhere to party leadership over all work of education
  2. Adhere to taking fostering integrity and promoting rounded development of people as the fundamental task of education
  3. Adhere to giving top priority to developing education
  4. Adhere to running the schools in the socialist direction
  5. Adhere to developing education on the land of China
  6. Adhere to the people-centered development of education
  7. Adhere to deepening the reform and innovation in education
  8. Adhere to seeing serving the rejuvenation of the Chinese nations as an important mission
  9. Adhere to building the teachers’ ranks as fundamental work.

The environment that today’s adult and continuing education is facing is very different from that of 40 years ago. China’s socio-economy is growing stronger and stronger and international position and international influence are gradually increasing. Adult and continuing education is closely related to the socio-economic development, and its interaction with market demand is more and more obvious. People are in urgent need of continuing education and lifelong education because it is the engine of their lifetime development.

China will continue its reform and opening up, drawing on advanced educational concepts and experience from all over the world, and make every effort to develop the provision of continuing education and a learning society.