CIRE Research Debate – ‘Education and the Sustainable Development Goals’: the case of China

Dini.jpegDini Jiang is a PhD student at the Graduate School of Education, investigating teacher effectiveness and professional development in China. In this post he reflects on the recent CIRE research debate and the specific case of China.


What are the mechanisms that are driving international development agendas? This was the key question that arose for me from the CIRE research debate about Education and the Sustainable Development Goals. It follows from what I see the distinctive educational needs and policy priorities of mainland China to be and the engagement of these needs and priorities with international development agendas such as the Education for All [EFA], Millennium Development goals [MDGs] and Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]. It also arises from how ‘education governance’ (Dale 1997; Robertson & Dale 2013) has shaped the form, pattern and scope of educational policies and practices globally.


Crucially, the educational needs and policy priorities of mainland China are distinct from those of many countries worldwide. As Law (2014) argues, the Chinese government has taken a human capital development approach to coping with the manpower-related challenges of the 21st century, and, through curriculum-making, the state has played an important role in the social distribution of knowledge, skills and dispositions in order to ease the tension between globalisation and nationalism. This key argument can be evidenced by a series of educational reforms undertaken in the mainland Chinese context, including the sushi Jiaoyu – Quality Education Reform – (The Communist Party of China Central Committee & State Council of PRC 1999), the Basic Education Reform (The State Council of PRC 2001) and the Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (The Ministry of Education of PRC 2010). In order to address economic, socio-political and educational changes, the Quality Education Reform is essentially concerned with enabling children and adolescents to achieve all-round moral, intellectual and physical development so as to lay the foundations for cultivating socialist siyou xinren – people with socialist ideals, moral virtues, good education and discipline (The Ministry of Education of PRC 1986). The Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development has highlighted guidelines (p.7) of “upholding the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics”, “carrying out the Party’s principles on education” and “promoting the scientific development of education” as well as strategic themes (pp.10-11) of “always putting moral education in the first place”, “emphasising capacity building” and “stressing all-round development”.

Access, quality and equity

These educational needs and priorities in China do, to some extent, engage with international development agendas. Since Dakar, China has improved access to education by expanding lower and upper secondary enrolment; the gross enrolment ratio in lower secondary education increased by at least 27 percentage points from 1999 to 2012, with that in upper secondary education increasing by over 50 percentage points (UNESCO 2015).


Gross enrolment ratios in lower secondary (top) and upper secondary education (bottom), 1999/2012 (UNESCO 2015, p.114)

The concept of ‘quality’ in China is understood broadly in terms of context, inputs, process and outcomes, which reflects the UNESCO (2005) framework for understanding education quality (Thomas et al. 2011). Student academic outcomes in national exams are perceived as the main criteria of quality evaluation, in consideration of the long standing exam-oriented culture and educational competitiveness caused by access expansion. The importance of ‘equity’ is emphasised locally with regards to reducing East/West and urban/rural differences (Thomas 2011). The hukou – household registration – system is the foundation of China’s divisive dualistic (rural and urban) socioeconomic structure and the country’s two classes of citizenship. Its impact on China’s industrialisation, urbanisation and social and spatial stratification has intensified educational inequalities (Chan 2009) and gaps between urban and rural areas in lower secondary school attainment remain (UNESCO 2015).

Lower secondary attainment rate by location, 2000/2010 (UNESCO 2015, p.117)

All of this reflects the significance of ‘context sensitivity’ (Crossley & Watson, 2009) in understanding educational reform and international development.

Education governance frameworks

Returning to the key question – ‘what are the mechanisms that are driving international development agendas?’ – perhaps education governance frameworks (Robertson and Dale 2013) can provide us with further insights into understanding the social justice implications of privatisation. The governance frameworks are comprised of a combination of distinct forms of education activity (funding, provision, ownership, regulation), particular kinds of entities or agents with different interests (state, for-profit/not-for-profit market, community, individual) and different platforms or scales of rule (sub-national, national, supranational). As Robertson and Dale (2013) argue, “education governance innovations demand an explicit engagement with social justice theories, both in themselves, and as offering an opportunity to address issues of social justice that go beyond the re/distribution of education inputs and outputs, important though these are, and which take account of the political and accountability issues raised by globalising of education governance activity” (p. 426).

Chan, K.W. (2009) The Chinese hukou system at 50, Eurasian Geography and Economics, 50 (2), 197-221.
Crossley, M. & Watson, K. (2009) Comparative and international education: policy transfer, context sensitivity and professional development, Oxford Review of Education, 35 (5), 633-649.
Dale, R. (1997) Educational Markets and School Choice, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 18 (3), 451-468.
Law, W. (2014) Understanding China’s curriculum reform for the 21st century, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 46 (3), 332-360.
Robertson, S.L. & Dale, R. (2013) The social justice implications of privatisation in education governance frameworks: a relational account, Oxford Review of Education, 39 (4), 426-445.
The Communist Party of China Central Committee & State Council of PRC (1999) Decision concerning the deepening of education reform and the full-scale promotion of quality education.
The Ministry of Education of PRC (1986) Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China.
The Ministry of Education of PRC (2010) Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development.
The State Council of PRC (2001) Decision concerning basic education reform and development.
Thomas, S.M. (2011) Improving Educational Evaluation and Quality in China. ESRC End of Award Report, RES-167-25-0353. Swindon: ESRC.
UNESCO (2005) Education for All: The quality imperative. EFA Global Monitoring Reports.
UNESCO (2015) Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges. EFA Global Monitoring Reports.

Research dialogue on peace and conflict: Responses from MSc students

CIRE – Research Dialogue on Peace and Conflict: Dr. Shelley McKeown Jones and Dr. Julia Paulson9 November 2016

MSc students Anil Akbulut and Chris Doel give their personal responses to the Research Dialogue presentations on 9 November, followed by MSc student Anna Burchfield’s reflection on a recent lecture by the first speaker, Dr. McKeown Jones. 

Anil Akbulut on Dr. Shelley McKeown Jones’ presentation:

When I joined this CIRE seminar, I was very excited because I wanted to write an assignment about segregation, migration and/or refugees and asylum seekers. At the time, I was reading a lot of papers about these topics, but the experiments that Dr. Jones explored in her presentation were really helpful to me because she provided real world examples and experiences. I have obtained some ideas from her presentation, especially the following sections: “micro ecologies” of segregation, her current project with racial segregation, and her future work with “the diversity effect”.  

From this presentation, several points stood out to me. In her research, she focuses on segregation, in that she looks at where students sit and who they interact with in order to see if they are moving outside of their groups. For this, the context of religious diversity in Northern Ireland for the example was interesting. The size of the population of Catholics and Protestants are almost the same so we cannot talk about “religious minorities” here, and they don’t “look” so different from each other, but they still maintain their different groups within their classrooms. Contact Theory argues that people will decrease their negative views of a group because of contact with them; Dr. Jones’ research appears to show that this isn’t always true. After this section, Dr. Jones asked the question: “Do we expect too much from contact?”

Secondly, and this was the most interesting part for me, she gave us some information about the experiments to look at racial segregation observations in primary schools.  In these observations, they used different methods, but mostly the Value In Diversity storybook, which teaches principles of diversity at a child’s level. The researchers observed the children before the story, immediately after, and then 24-48 hours after the story. Immediately after, the actions of children showed more intergroup contact, but unfortunately 24-48 hours after the story, their contact reverted to their own groups. Precisely at this point, I was wondering about their families’ attitudes and approaches to ‘segregation’ and ‘diversity’, because this stimulant is really significant in a pupil’s approach to his/her friends.

To conclude, I must mention that education (especially primary education) will be the most significant part when we are trying to create peace and desegregation and, as a teacher, these real examples from the real world are going to be our pathfinders. This presentation provided research that will help inform us as teachers. 

Dr Shelley McKeown Jones

Chris Doel on Dr. Julia Paulson’s presentation:

The broad essence with Dr Paulson’s presentation was a précis on the nature of Truth Commissions and their links to education since 1980. The broad range of countries included in the research analysis ranged from Argentina and Uganda in the 1980s, to more recent examples of Kenya and Canada (yet to be concluded and not fully implemented in the research at present). As such, it was highlighted that there had been forty Truth Commissions around the world, but to ascertain their relative success Dr Paulson’s research seeks to investigate the purpose of each and how they were evaluated and quantified. Commissions were evaluated broadly and then examined more specifically for education, with fourteen subsections for education engagement identified. Themes from the research included the significance of a recommendation to increase the use of education to address the issues raised through the Truth Commissions (such as new and revised pedagogical techniques), the exclusion of Northern Ireland from the research, and the validity of such research and the impact that it may have on issues such as ‘peace and conflict’ and, significantly, education.

The research raised the point that whilst education had also become a more prominent part of peaceable agendas in the past, it is not necessarily the case more recently. For instance, summative findings suggest that ‘the number of Truth Commissions and engagements in education, which was relatively insignificant in the 1980s, spiked in the 2000s, and has regressed to date’. What does this suggest?

Let us illustrate a number of points here that can illuminate some of the significant findings. When one examines the ‘Type and frequency of Truth Commission engagements with education’ there are four broad categories: ‘Instrumental’, Relationship’, ‘Investigative’ and ‘Recommended’. One interesting category which I will highlight is the latter; why? I thought it would be interesting to ascertain how the ‘Recommended’ category from the research was (or will be) acted upon by countries as a result of Truth Commissions. For example, considering the aspect of ‘non-formal’ education, where would this be filtered into institutions? Possibilities include the military and civil service so that beyond formal education, society can come to terms with the nature of conflict and strive toward peace. Additionally, ‘Teach history of conflict’ is interesting if only because it would be a challenge to the very nature of the problems that had occurred and triggered a Truth Commission; how would this be implemented and measured? Would the history be objective? What would objectivity look like? These are some of the questions that I would raise.

Whilst an interesting and insightful presentation, the length of time was too short and as such there could have been more time given to developing some of the major conclusions thus far. This is by no means a negative comment, but as an MSc student I would have liked the fourteen points from the initial qualitative analysis to have been addressed in more depth, together with ‘Types and frequency of Truth Commission engagements with education’. On the latter point, each of the types of engagement could have been covered in more depth which could have stimulated an interesting discussion; especially important due to the nature of the research. Finally, to the point of Truth Commissions; who decides when they happen and why?

Dr. Julia Paulson

Anna Burchfield: A recent lecture by Dr Shelley McKeown Jones

In one of the recent lectures for the Education, Peace and Sustainable Development module, we were lucky to be joined by Shelley McKeown Jones. In the lecture, we learned and discussed contact hypothesis and how identity is reflected in individual’s group actions.

We learned that when using the contact hypothesis (the more time people spend with someone who is different to them, the more tolerant they become) there are some limitations. It is stated that for contact hypothesis to be true, all participants must start on an equal standing. Ensuring this in a society which has been polarised or with people who have lived their lives segregated is incredibly difficult – you cannot undo years of socialisation in one experiment.

Researchers must also ensure that there is cooperation and common goals amongst the participants. Creating a common goal can be easy, for example a sports team or a project. However when considering cooperation, it is important to recognise that there may not be equal participation or cooperation, and societal hierarchies may still be apparent and dominate the work.

Our group identities make us feel good about ourselves, being part of a group makes us happy. Pointing out the differences in other people makes us feel better about our standing. Trying to work to challenge these deeply ingrained attitudes will take long-term societal shift. I believe that we are moving towards a more inclusive society, as can be evidenced by voting patterns of young people in a couple of key elections/referendums this year. As we move into the future, we will bring with us more multicultural contact and more recognition of the need for diversity and celebration of each other’s differences.