JTE v3n1 - The Potential for Technology Education in People's Republic of China
The Potential for Technology Education in People's Republic of China
                            Xinli Wu
               With the rapid development of society
          and economics in the People's Republic of
          China, the importance of technology education
          has been gradually recognized by both the
          government and people of China.  China has
          benefited in many areas, including science
          and technology, since China opened her na-
          tion's gates to the industrialized western
          countries. China and the United States signed
          a memorandum of agreement to launch three
          satellites (Chen, 1990). The U. S. government
          has recently issued a license for shipment of
          these three satellites to China.  The suc-
          cessful launching of AsiaSat-1, a satellite
          manufactured by the Hughes Aircraft Company
          for the Asia Satellite Telecommunication Cor-
          poration, marked the beginning of China's
          entry into the international satellite tele-
          communication market.  Technologies in other
          areas, such as nuclear energy, superconduc-
          tors, high-energy accelerators, advanced new
          computers, and robots to serve mankind, have
          also represented significant breakthroughs in
          Chinese science and technology.
               With the increased pace of scientific
          and technological development, technology ed-
          ucation in the mainland of China has new po-
          tential.  For example, the Odyssey of the
          Mind program (OM, called Olympics of the Mind
          in China), created by  Dr. C. Samuel Micklus
          of New Jersey of the United States in 1978,
          has been adopted by the Chinese educational
          system.  The first OM competition at the sec-
          ondary school level in China was held in
          Beijing in March, 1990 (Kong, 1990).  It was
          organized by the Chinese magazine, "Secondary
          School Students."
               Almost all schools are public schools in
          the socialist China.  According to 1987 sta-
          tistics, there were 807,400 elementary
          schools with 128,358,000 pupils in the main-
          land of China. Although 69.04% of the elemen-
          tary school graduates were admitted to junior
          high school, only 31.14 of junior high gradu-
          ates were admitted to high school. In the
          same year, the percentage of high school
          graduates granted admission to colleges and
          universities was 26.60 (SECOPRC, 1989).
               These recent events raise a host of
          questions: What is the history, current sta-
          tus, and future of technology education in
          China? Is it possible to establish technology
          education systems in China? How can younger
          generations and Chinese society benefit from
          technology education? What are the impli-
          cations of technology education for China?
                          TION IN CHINA
               China has a long history of technolog-
          ical inventions.  Some greatest inventions in
          the world originated in the ancient China.
          Four of these inventions are paper manufac-
          turing, gun powder, the compass, and printing
          technology.  China is one of the oldest coun-
          tries with an education system.  Vocational
          education first appeared in China in isolated
          schools around 1870.   A national system of
          vocational education was not set up until the
          Qing Government promulgated the "Imperial Or-
          dinance on Schools" in 1902 (UNESACO, 1985).
          From then until 1949, when the People's Re-
          public of China was established, the founda-
          tion of technical and vocational education
          was very weak.  Ever since 1949, technical
          and vocational education in China has gone
          through a continuous process of reforms, re-
          adjustment and improvement.  "Technology are
          the productive forces" is a well-known slogan
          in China that has been frequently recognized.
          The Central Committee of the Communist Party
          of China declared: "A vital factor for the
          success of our cause lies in the availability
          of skilled people, which requires the vigor-
          ous development of education as economic
          growth allows." (ROCES, 1985, p.1)
               Technology education, which involves a
          study of communication, transportation, con-
          struction and manufacturing systems as cur-
          rently implemented in the United States and
          some other advanced countries, has not yet
          been established in mainland of China.  Tech-
          nology education is different from vocational
          and technical education although they have
          certain relationships.  Technology education
          deals with applying technology to understand,
          use and evaluate technology while vocational
          and technical education deals with developing
          employment skills.  A technology teacher edu-
          cation major does not exist at the university
          level within China.  Technology education in
          China exists solely in the forms of science
          and engineering education in the universi-
          ties.  In some elementary and secondary
          schools, technology education is currently
          included in vocational and technical educa-
          tion or integrated with general science edu-
          cation. The National Education Commission
          (SECOPRC, 1989) cited the following examples
          of the current status of technology education
          in Chinese schools:
          1.  The fourth and fifth grades in Beijing
              Yumin elementary school have learned com-
          2.  The Qinghua middle school in Guiyang City
              of Guizhou Province has had a computer
              course since 1983.
          3.  An after-class group in physics at the
              Quinghua Middle school in Guiyang City
              experimentally on and demonstrated "heat
              transmission."  The group recently won
              the national youngsters' science and
              technology invention award.
          4.  Many schools have developed some courses
              relative to technology education.
               Chinese elementary school students are
          required to have two hours of science, tech-
          nical and entertainment (i.e., Art, Music,
          and so on) instruction per week in the Five-
          year Full Time Elementary School of China.
          This amount is minimal.  The official view is
          that "in matters of educational structure,
          our elementary education is inadequate, there
          are not enough good-quality schools and there
          is a serious shortage of qualified teachers
          and basic facilities.  Besides, vocational
          and technical education, which is almost ur-
          gently needed for economic development, has
          not expanded as expected, while there is a
          lop-sided arrangement of various disciplines
          and levels of higher education." (ROCES,
          1985, p.4)
               Education in China is divorced, to vary-
          ing degrees, from the needs of economic and
          social growth and lags behind the scientific
          and cultural development of the present-day
          world.  It is necessary for the Chinese edu-
          cational system to start with systemic re-
          forms of the educational structure.  Through
          a series of planned reforms, elementary edu-
          cation will be substantially strengthened,
          vocational and technical education will be
          greatly expanded, colleges and universities
          will be able to exploit their potential and
          exercise greater initiative, and education of
          all kinds and at all levels will actively ad-
          dress the multiple needs of economic and so-
          cial development (ROCES, 1985).
               Both the Communist Party and the govern-
          ment of China have recognized that in devel-
          oping vocational and technical education,
          China should focus on secondary vocational
          and technical education and emphasize the
          central role of specialized secondary
          schools.  At the same time, China should make
          an effort to develop advanced vocational and
          technical institutions. These institutions
          will enroll students who graduated from sec-
          ondary vocational or technical schools with
          the required specialized training as well as
          employed workers in technical fields who have
          passed the entrance examinations.  A system
          of vocational and technical education with a
          rational structure, ranging from elementary
          to advanced levels, embracing all trades and
          other areas in China societal structure, and
          linked regular education will be gradually
          established in China (ROCES,1985).
               Establishment of a technology education
          system in China is just a matter of time.
          With the further development of science,
          technology, economics, and associated
          societal changes,  Chinese educational sys-
          tems will eventually shift from only voca-
          tional and technical education to both
          technology education and vocational and tech-
          nical education. Technology education will
          ultimately be considered an integral part of
          general education.
                            IN CHINA
               Today, technology shifts rapidly.  It is
          evident that what was purchased today will be
          obsolete tomorrow.  "A current estimate is
          that our advanced technology enables know-
          ledge to double about every five years."
          (TEAP, 1988, p.1)
               China, which has the largest population
          in the world, is now moving forward in tech-
          nology at the fastest rate in her history.
          The motivations for this increased pace are
          many.  One can say that the economic founda-
          tion of China was weak before 1949 and is
          much stronger now.  Education, including
          technology education, is the foundation of a
          nation's development.  "Every nation now per-
          ceives its national security and economic
          health to be vitally dependent on its
          strength in technology.  This is creating
          international contests for technological su-
          periority, a world technology Olympics."
          (Ramo, 1988, p.44)
               People in China often say that technolo-
          gies are productive forces.  The prosperity
          and development of a nation are based upon
          its technology.  A nation will be "beaten" if
          its technologies fall behind those of more
          advanced nations.  The importance of technol-
          ogy education can never be overemphasized.
          Making Chinese youngsters technologically
          literate is important.  It promotes China's
          national development, prosperity, and safety
          as well as world peace.  If Chinese young-
          sters fail today, China will fail in the
          twenty-first century.
                            IN CHINA
               The development of technology education
          in China has internal and external moti-
          vations.  China is a developing socialist
          country.  The socialist modernization of
          China not only requires senior scientific and
          technical experts but also urgently requires
          millions of intermediate and junior engi-
          neers, managerial personnel and technicians
          who have received adequate vocational and
          technical education as well as rural workers
          who are well-trained vocationally.  Without
          these educated people, advanced sciences,
          technologies and sophisticated equipment can-
          not be translated into productive forces
          (ROCES, 1985).   Furthermore, the need for
          economic, scientific and technological devel-
          opment and increasingly higher qualifications
          for employees are motivation to develop tech-
          nology education in China.   Although the
          Chinese education system has not implemented
          technology education, vocational and techni-
          cal education are emphasized.  Both the com-
          munist party and government of China have the
          confidence and determination to develop the
          nation's technology education.  It is time
          for China to stand among the leaders in an
          increasingly technological world.
               Good technology education programs in
          industrialized nations have a very strong in-
          fluence and positive impact on technology ed-
          ucation in China.  For example, how would one
          build a declined tower with dozens of
          chopsticks without any adhesives or nails?
          This tower should support a weight until it
          is released by a control system assembled on
          the top of the tower.  How would one make a
          bed on which loads could be supported with
          kraft paper and two wooden bars? These two
          activities were from OM activities showed in
          a series of sixteen television programs named
          "Olympics of the Mind of Secondary School
          Students of China" from the first OM competi-
          tion for secondary students in China.  Begin-
          ning March 18, 1990, these sixteen television
          programs were broadcast throughout China via
          the National CCTV (i.e. Chinese  Central
          Television Station) owned by the Chinese gov-
          ernment.  It is easy to image that the OM
          program has had an impact on technology edu-
          cation in China, and has developed positive
          attitudes about technology education.  Stu-
          dents are very interested in the OM program,
          the goals of which are to educate, foster,
          and observe the students' abilities to ac-
          tively and agilely solve problems. Besides
          the OM program, Chinese educational systems
          often hold technology program competitions at
          the elementary, high school and university
          educational levels. These include activities
          such as model airplane competitions, technol-
          ogy camps, computer application competitions,
          that stimulate students to love and pursue
          science and technology.
               Chinese students studying technology ed-
          ucation overseas can also affect the poten-
          tial development of their motherland's
          technology education through communication
          with their universities, communities, or via
          suggestions to their educational systems and
               According to the official plan for so-
          cial and economic development in China, it is
          important to establish technology education
          systems.  From the viewpoint of the internal
          and external motivations, it is possible and
          feasible to build good technology education
          systems in China.
               Only 5.72 students out of 100 enrolled
          elementary school students (according to 1987
          statistics) were admitted to colleges and
          universities for higher education in China.
          Those not admitted will go to industry, the
          military, business, and other selected areas,
          most of these individuals will be employed in
          the agricultural sector with the majority of
          the Chinese people.  With the development of
          technology education in the future, those
          students, who are not able to enter colleges
          and universities, could also be technolog-
          ically literate.  By providing technological
          literacy, technology education prepares our
          youngsters to function as knowledgeable citi-
          zens in a changing and increasingly techno-
          logical world.  Obviously, technology
          education plays an essential and highly valu-
          able role in both the education curricula and
          societal needs.
               Although science, technology, industry
          and agriculture are progressing rapidly in
          China, many facilities, equipment, and tools
          in these areas, especially in agriculture,
          are very old.  Some agricultural tools used
          in some areas of China today were used se-
          veral centuries ago.  If Chinese citizens in
          the countryside were well educated about con-
          temporary inventions and developments in ag-
          riculture, they too would benefit from
          technology education.
               Reform and development of China's agri-
          culture are one of the most important goals
          in the eighth Five-year Plan (1991-1995),
          which pushes Chinese technology education
          forward.  Technology education also has a
          positive impact on industry and other sec-
          tors.  By helping students apply creative
          abilities and problem-solving techniques,
          technology education opens students' minds to
          accelerate the development of technology in
          China, increases the rate of improvement of
          worker productivity (which is the key to a
          higher living standard), and promotes tech-
          nologies into productive forces.  As a re-
          sult, the citizens of China will live better
          than they do now. Technology education can be
          considered as a way to change and improve
          living standards in Chinese society.  To im-
          prove living standards of 1.1 billion people
          is not only a great contribution to the
          Chinese nation, but also to the whole world
          where technological advances are so pervasive
          and competitive.
               Technology education will promote the
          modernization of science and technology, ag-
          riculture, industry, and national defense in
          China.  These four modernizations are the
          current goals which the communist party, gov-
          ernment, and people of China are struggling
          to realize by the end of this century.
               Technology education, as currently im-
          plemented in the United States and some other
          advanced countries, does not exist in China's
          educational systems.  It is obvious that a
          great potential for technology education ex-
          ists in China.  Technology education in China
          will improve the technological literacy and
          capability of Chinese citizens.  Technology
          education will also transform technology into
          productive forces quickly, improve the living
          standards of China nation, enhance the na-
          tion's defense, and maintain the world's
          Xinli Wu is a graduate assistant in the De-
          partment of Civil Engineering at The
          Pennsylvania State University, University
          Park, PA.  He was formerly a graduate student
          at Millersville University and a lecturer in
          Civil Engineering at Northeast University of
          Technology, China.  AUTHOR NOTE: I gratefully
          acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Perry
          Gemmill for his advice and comments on a
          draft of this article.  I also gratefully ac-
          knowledge the assistance of Associate Profes-
          sor Huang Tao, the Consul on Education at
          Consulate General of the People's Republic of
          China in New York, and Linda Steinmetz,
          Microcomputer Specialist, Millersville Uni-
          versity, for comments and technical assist-
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          Permission is given to copy any
          article or graphic provided credit is given and
          the copies are not intended for sale.
Journal of Technology Education   Volume 3, Number 1       Fall 1991
by Radiya Rashid