‘Education factories’ spring up

A NEW kind of project is blooming in China’s countryside today: the vocational education park.

Three decades ago, Chinese cities began turning rural land into industrial parks to attract foreign investors. But cities around the country are now carving out tracts of land for school parks – dubbed “education factories” – designed to train hundreds of thousands of students.

Fuelling their drive are generous government subsidies and targets to increase the number of skilled workers. It is part of Beijing’s (北京) push to redirect the economy away from its investment-led past towards a more innovative, high-tech future.

The expansion comes even as many existing vocational schools are struggling to live up to their promise.

“You can build as much as you want, but unless you get good teachers, good curriculum and a system that assesses and rewards high performing schools with more resources, it’s just going to be a waste of money,” says Scott Rozelle, co-director of the Rural Education Action Program (農村教育行動計劃) at Stanford University (史丹福大學). Rozelle is also the author of many papers on vocational education in China.

There is no question China needs to raise skill levels. Wayne Zhang, who runs a home decor products factory in northeastern China, says that finding skilled workers is increasingly hard. Of the 100 staff he set out to hire last year in order to increase capacity or make more complex products, he has only been able to find 60.

As the labour force shrinks and ages, China also needs to coax more productivity out of each worker. Worker training can help avoid the so-called “middle-income trap” and, in theory, narrow a widening income gap that threatens social stability.

(Reuters, 15 October 2015)

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