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More Emphasis on Vocational Education

China's national education report was released yesterday, outlining the achievements of the past five years and setting out tasks for the future.

The official report shows the country is stepping steadily along the road mapped by the 2000 Dakar Framework of "education for all." Official statistics show China has made great efforts to increase fiscal input, eliminate gender inequality in education and improve literacy and essential work skills for all of its people. This is in line with the goals and commitments set out by the Dakar framework.

The strong message the report sends is that as a national strategy, the country will pour in more money and draft more policies to speed up the development of rural education, traditionally a weak link in the country's education system.

The government will pump more money into upgrading rural educational infrastructure, training more qualified teachers and strengthening vocational training for young people. Private donations will be further encouraged.

All of these measures are important, but what should be focused on is vocational education and training for the rural youth.

Education has proved to be vital to economic growth, which cannot be sustained without an adequate supply of both capital and qualified human resources.

China's higher education has developed in leaps and bounds in recent years, churning out millions of graduates every year. The question is, is it necessary for all of our labour force to hold a university diploma?

Many graduates find securing a decent job is next to impossible, despite their qualifications. On the other hand, many cities badly need high-calibre workers and technicians that can be trained at inexpensive vocational schools.

Millions of farmers-turned-workers are seeking positions in cities. With few skills they have to converge on industries and jobs that require labour instead of skill, further intensifying competition in the low-end job market.

We lack skilled workers and technicians.

Developing vocational education and training will not only help fill that gap, but boost the rural economy to balance the national economy. If more vocational schools were established in rural areas, farmers would be able to pick up practical agricultural and other technical skills to improve production and widen access to non-farming opportunities.

In this way, farmers would not have to travel to cities to earn cash to support their families. Even if they chose to leave home, vocational schools would provide skills that would help them adapt to the urban labour environment.

The emphasis on vocational education is a departure from the higher learning-obsessed mentality of the past, which has tended to produce many graduates that cannot find appropriate jobs because of their failure to come to terms with social needs.

The country will, as the report reveals, put more public funding behind a drive to realize a shift in emphasis. Some 10 billion yuan (US$1.23 billion) has been set aside for the next five years for vocational education.

But to speed up its development, we also need to fully mobilize social forces.

There have been many warm-hearted social figures and organizations in the cities offering vocational training for rural residents so that they can either help other farmers back in their villages or earn a higher wage if they come to work in the cities.

Such investors deserve our respect and concrete policy support.

(China Daily November 11, 2005)

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