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China raises education spending, but more needs to be done
Posted: March-14-2012Adjust font size:

 The central government spending on education will account for 4% of the country's GDP this year. Local financial organizations should decide their budgets accordingly, said Premier Wen Jiabao, when delivering the government report at the opening ceremony of the annual session of the National People's Congress.

The 4% is the most familiar percentage to China's educational circle. China's education has been pursuing the "4%" for about 20 years. It was a long and rough journey. If in 1993 some parents, holding their newly-born child, read the newly-printed "Reform and Development Program for China's Education" and regarded China's promise of realizing the goal of putting 4% of the GDP into education by the middle of the 1990s or the end of the 20th century as a luscious apple, then, in 2012, the child, who has graduated from high school, has ultimately picked up this luscious "apple."

According to international standards, this "apple" shows the importance of education to a country. During the mid-1980s, China's spending on education had been lower than 3% of GDP. In the late 1980s, the State Education Commission made a suggestion to the CPC Central Committee and the State Council that the percentage should be increased to 4% by the mid-1990s or 2000. However, the percentage had been lower than 3.5% till 2011.

Higher spending on education is beneficial to almost every family in China. Why did it take the country 19 years to increase education spending to 4% of GDP?

First, as the central government has taken economic development as the country's primary task, almost all local governments are thirsty for investment, and are least willing to invest in education. Due to their obsession with GDP growth and lack of transparency and supervision, education always takes the smallest share of government spending.

Second, the transfer payment for education from the fiscal revenue has met with much resistance. Although the central government has decided to increase spending on education, the reform of the country's fiscal and taxation system has been too slow, and local governments have been unwilling to spend much on education. The central government has taken a series of measures to boost local governments' enthusiasm for education, which is a gradual process.

Third, China has achieved rapid economic growth over the past 20 years, and even 4% of its GDP is a large number, making it more difficult for the country to increase education spending.

The hardship experienced by pursuing "4%" enabled us to have an insightful vision of the great resistance and difficulties in revitalizing China's education. Besides, pursuing "4%" has increasingly become the focus of media attention, demonstrating the Chinese people's great concern and deep expectations for education.

Today, the goal of "4%" is finally realized. By pushing aside all obstacles and difficulties, this government fulfilled its promise, just as Premier Wen said, "it eventually paid this debt". It is safe to say that the realization of the "4%" goal can be called a "Chang-e flying to the moon" of China's education in terms of rough courses, long period and profound significance. This fulfillment of promise not only established the government's reputation, but also enriched China's education, thus when the state is solving problems for which Chinese people have strong feelings, such as equality in access to basic educational services, rational allocation of educational resources in rural areas, and improvement of higher education quality, will be more confident and contained. After all, 4% is not a small number given China's huge GDP.

What should be reminded is that to have this "apple" invested in education fall to the ground firmly still faces intangible resistance, so the accountability mechanism should be started if necessary. What Chinese education needs most are not just money but more ideas and courage for system reforms.

It is also clear that when we are about to eat this "apple" of "4%", others have picked a greater and sweeter "apple". The investment in education of the United States had reached 7% of GDP in 1999, and the percentage had reached 5% in India in 2003. Although we are pleased about the achievement we have made, we also have to speed up cultivating the next "apple".

Source: People's Daily OnlineEditor: oulin
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