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Enhancing China's Competitiveness Through Lifelong Learning
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A new World Bank report Enhancing China's Competitiveness through Lifelong Learning by Carl Dahlman, Douglas Zhihua Zeng, and Shuilin Wang praises China for its many successes in education and training.

The adult literacy rate has been increased from 68% in 1980 to 89% in 2004. Primary enrollment has become virtually universal. Secondary enrollment rates have increased from 46% to 73%, and tertiary enrollment rates have gone from 2% to 21% over the same period. Tens of millions of workers have been retrained as the economy has been restructuring from rural to urban, from agriculture to industry and services, and from plan to market. 

No other major country has achieved such rapid improvements or made such massive retraining investments in such a short time.

Given China's increased exposure to international competition, the growing importance of knowledge and skills for competitiveness, and the constant need for retraining required by Chin's rapid growth, the report argues that China needs to continue to improve in this area. 

It recommends that, to enhance its competitiveness, China further expand education and training, and develop a more integrated system of learning. The life long learning system needs to cover not just formal education, but learning throughout life, with appropriate bridges and interfaces among multiple providers of education and training, catering to the needs of students and workers, and the needs of the market.

"China still has a long way to go in building a lifelong learning system and a learning society," says Li, Jiange, Vice Minister of the Development Research Center of the State Council. "The goal of building a lifelong learning system can be achieved only if there is a concerted effort by all stakeholders, including the various levels of governments and education authorities."

The key messages of the report include:

• To build an effective lifelong learning system, the role of government needs to change from being the main provider of education and training to being the architect, facilitator, and rule-keeper of a broader and more inclusive system.

In this scenario, the government needs to ensure quality, relevance, efficiency, and equity through sound accreditation, assessment, and vocational qualification systems, stronger linkages with the labor market, partnerships with nongovernmental players, and better resource allocation and financial aid programs.

• A lifelong learning system also requires reliable information for all stakeholders, especially information on the changing market and skills needs; quality of education and training providers; learning and equivalencies; as well as the establishment of an effective education management information system.

• To meet the increasing demand for education and training, China needs to develop an education finance market to tap into private resources. In addition to tuition fees, it is important to exploit or improve other financial instruments such as student loans, bonds, vouchers, tax subsidies, competitive grants, scholarships, etc. 

• China also needs to fully harness the potential of distance education. In doing so, it is crucial to provide sound certification, accreditation and quality assurance mechanisms for e-learning.

• To implement the lifelong learning system, China needs to put in place systems and institutions that can self-adjust to rapid change, develop a process for carrying the task forward, and constantly improve the system through regular monitoring and evaluation.

"The report on 'Enhancing China's Competitiveness through Lifelong Learning' is quite meaningful and significant, especially on the issues of how to make full use of the vast labor resources, how to increase the effectiveness of capital investment, and how to turn the population burden into the most important resource for economic development," notes Hu, Angang, Director of Center for China Studies.

"The study has a clear target and is suitable to the practical conditions of China. It can provide important assistance for the Chinese government to formulate relevant policies on education and life-long learning, especially through providing an overall architecture for China's life-long learning system and helping initiate a process of bringing key stakeholders, both domestic and international, to work together."

"The framework and analysis in this report will be useful not only for China, but also for other countries that want to have the well-trained labor force needed to remain competitive in today's very demanding global environment," says Jamil Salmi, Lead Specialist on Higher Education and Life Long Learning in the World Bank. 

(China.org.cn June 20, 2007)

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