Tong Shijun: Developing Education that People are Satisfied with Calls for Concerted Efforts from All Sides
Created On : 2018-04-19    Views : 205

Education is usually put under the category of people's livelihood. However, education is not only a matter of people's livelihood but also a cultural issue. In other words, education is more of a cultural consumption than a material consumption; educational needs are more about the demand for “means of enjoyment” and “means of development” that Engels mentioned in the Dialectics of Nature rather than the need for "means of subsistence." In this case, generally the need for education transcends the natural attributes of human beings and depends on the social attributes. The changes in the content, quality, and quantity of educational needs will, to a large extent, be affected by transformations in social and cultural conditions that people are in. From this perspective, satisfying people’s needs for a better life in terms of education is more of a systemic project than meeting their needs for a better life from many other aspects.

"A better life" has many different aspects

"A better life" has various aspects. We should try to understand the relationship between a "happy" life and the “education that people are satisfied with” from different perspectives.

Living in an objective world, people are involved in various interpersonal relationships and making a journey of life. Therefore, "a better life" involves the three relationships of; "man and nature", "man and man", and "self". They form the core of "material life," "social life," and "spiritual life." In terms of the relationship between man and nature, whether my life is good or not depends on whether the material things are plentiful or not, as well as whether the ecological environment is pleasant or not. With regard to the “man-and-man relation”; whether life is good or not depends on whether interpersonal relationships are harmonious, or not. It also hinges on how interpersonal comparisons are conducted. When making interpersonal comparisons, whether how happy my life is is related to how good the life of others is? Are the two positively or negatively correlated? It is a zero sum or a non-zero sum? Regarding “self relation”, whether one’s life is good or not depends on whether his understanding of his own life is upward, downward, or static. It also rests with whether his understanding of his own life is one-dimensional or multi-dimensional and what value concept it is based on.

At present, the phenomena that people are unsatisfied with China’s education, such as the excessively high pressure on students entering a higher school and selecting a school they desire, excessive schoolwork, and overburdened parents are related with unbalanced and inadequate educational development objectively, and unbalanced and insufficient educational concept subjectively.  Objective "inadequacy" of educational development means that high quality education opportunities fall short of demand; "imbalance" in educational development refers to that quality education opportunities are unevenly and unfairly distributed. An important manifestation of the “incompleteness” of the subjective education concept is whether one’s life is “happy” is measured by a single indicator, and that different phases of life are separated and seen as means and ends. Understanding of the relationship between life and education is based on such an outlook on life. A key manifestation of the "imbalance" in the subjective educational concept is that interpersonal relationship in society is generally viewed as a zero-sum game in which you have more and I have less, or you lose and I win. From this point of view, we can understand how social educational opportunities are distributed and how well they meet their educational needs.

People talk more about the restrictive impact of objective unbalanced and inadequate development of education on our effort to develop education that people are satisfied with. Under such circumstances, the imbalance in and inadequacy of the subjective educational concept must be given enough attention. Because, if there is only one measurable indicator for "what kind of life is happy",which in the past was "he who excels in learning can be a nobleman" and today is "he who excels in learning can be a rich man". Suppose we feel “really wealthy” only on the condition that we are “richer” than others. Suppose we understand the relationship between education and life based on such a view of life, each progress we or our children make in life, including each advancement in the process of education, will be offset by the greater progress made by others or other children.

What’s worse, if we measure whether our life as successful or happy just on the basis of how much material wealth we possess and what social status we have; if we judge whether a particular educational system is satisfactory or not on the grounds of whether it can bring us more wealth & power and higher status; if we divide a life journey into two entirely different parts - the means and purpose, regarding one part of life solely as means and the other purpose; it would be easier for us to find that partial sacrifice of our life or our children’s life will not bring us a happy life in the real sense. The reason is simple: a life that sacrificed a considerable part is already an incomplete one. It is not a happy life.

Developing education that people are satisfied with calls for concerted efforts from all sides

To meet people's need for a better life and provide them with an education that they are satisfied with, we must make efforts from both the subjective and objective perspectives.

From an objective point of view, we must further improve the quality of education, increase the number and types of quality education, enable more to have access to quality education and promote targeted educational services on the condition that basic education is universally available, higher education is basically available, vocational education is developing rapidly, and preschool education, special education, continuing education, and other types of education all achieve fruitful results.

From a subjective perspective, we must understand more clearly the actual needs of the people for education and its changing trend. The past ten years have witnessed marked progress in Chinese people’s material, social, and spiritual life. People’s need for education is both the cause and result of these advances. In this period, significant changes have taken place to average education years and space, the starting and ending points of education, the content, form, type and quality of education, the motivation and purpose of receiving education, function and experience, the relationship between education and professional life and daily life, people’s understanding of and demand for education, and especially the way that educational resources and opportunities are provided. With regard to these changes, policy makers and researchers in the education field cannot be satisfied with gaining an impression from experience or making deductions just by thinking. They must be determined to carry out investigations and conduct analysis in a down-to-earth manner.

It must be pointed out that understanding the quantity, types, and quality of education people need is methodologically different from knowing about the quantity, variety, and quality of food they need. Although our food demand will also be affected by other’s demand for food and how such a demand is met, however, this influence is much smaller in comparison with how our educational need is affected by other’s need for education and how such a need is met. We usually put education under the category of people's livelihood, but education is not only a matter of people's livelihood but also a cultural issue. To put it another way, education is more of a sort of cultural consumption than a material consumption. Educational needs are more about the demand for “means of enjoyment” and “means of development” that Engels mentioned in the Dialectics of Nature rather than the need for "means of subsistence." In this case, overall the need for education transcends the natural attributes of human beings and depends on the social attributes. Changes in the content, quality, and quantity of educational needs will, to a large extent, be affected by transformations in social and cultural conditions that people are in. From this perspective, satisfying people’s needs for a better life in terms of education is more of a systemic project than meeting their needs for many other aspects of a better life.

How to look at the relationship between a better life and educational satisfaction?

We should pay special attention to the following four points when considering the relationship between “developing education that people are satisfied with” and “ people’s yearning for a better life” from the perspective of developing education for the people.

First, will the education that people seem to be "satisfied with" be the one that deviates from the true meaning of good education? Especially for some certain regions, if people only want their children to get high scores, enter prestigious schools, and earn high salaries. If the financial situation of the region is good, local governments will be apt to allocate funds to meet this educational demand. In this case, the examination-oriented education would become more and more serious, while quality education, vocational education, special education, and continuing education would increasingly shrink.

Second, the education that theoretically meets the requirements of “a better life” will be exactly the education in reality that does not “satisfy” the people, especially the students’ parents. For example, some local governments have changed some ordinary colleges to higher vocational colleges, in order to meet the need for industrial development and employment of the region. However, few students apply for schools of this kind and the public’s appraisal of this kind of study is not high.

Third, many people actually know very well what kind of education is truly in line with the “better life”, and is truly worthy of people’s satisfaction. Nevertheless, why do they prefer to choose the kind of education that they are not satisfied with in real life? For example, it can often be seen that some people often say at the conference that exam-oriented education is too biased and that the academic burden is too heavy. However, in real life, they are always busy with issues like selecting schools and teachers for their children and attending training classes of this or that kind.

Fourth, even if there is no problem with the education policy and concept on a macro level, the teaching activities that take place in the classroom between teachers and students and students’ school life are still far from the “education that people are satisfied with”. The phenomenon of “school bullying” often has something to do with family background and social environment. The fact that students feel a lack of care and respect invariably reflects problems with teachers’ work ability, professionalism and sense of responsibility. Therefore, to provide education that people are satisfied with, we must make efforts not only from subjective and objective aspects, but also on macro and micro levels. It is our core task to strengthen parent & teacher education and improve the competence and professional ethics of teachers. 

Cultivate correct values and educational concept

To understand the relationship between "developing education that people are satisfied with" and “people's yearning for a better life” from the point of view of public education, and to solve the problems caused by imbalance in and inadequacy of the educational concept, calls for a concerted effort by students, parents, the society, relevant management department, schools and education authorities.

It is necessary for students and their parents to form a correct view of education, while abandoning a one-sided understanding of the purpose of education or the view that distribution of educational opportunities is just a zero-sum game. At the same time, even if our educational goal is not utilitarian or materialistic, and if we don't look at distribution of educational opportunities as a zero-sum game, we still have something important to do to cultivate the right education concept, i.e. to treat properly the relationship between the purpose and means of life, rather than split the life process into two separate parts, one the purpose and the other the means, by devaluing one part of the life (youth) as the means or even the cost of another part of life (adulthood) .

As far as the society and relevant management departments are concerned, it is necessary to form a reasonable educational culture and avoid erroneous understanding of educational purposes and opportunities. By logical thinking, if there is no external pressure, considering that China has achieved such great progress in education since the reform and opening up, people scrambling for quality education opportunities will not result in a long-term intense zero-sum game. However, in today’s China, the intense zero-sum competition for quality education opportunities can easily become the norm rather than weaken, with increasingly abundant resources of quality education available. That’s because the choice of lifestyle and employment in particular relies too much on whether one has access to quality education, and especially whether one has high academic qualifications and diplomas from prestigious universities--the external sign of a quality education, Therefore, for the society and relevant management departments, in order to prevent misunderstanding of educational purposes and opportunities from impeding our effort to develop education that people are satisfied with, it is necessary to loosen the close ties between the merit-based selection mechanism and whether a particular member of society has obtained quality education, and to attach more importance to one’s true skill and genuine knowledge, instead of focusing only on his educational experience and diplomas. Effective measures should be taken to provide appropriate social and cultural conditions for developing education that people are satisfied with. In addition, the whole society and relevant management departments should also vigorously advocate the social ethic of loving science and loving labor, along with the educational idea of self-directed learning and lifelong learning, so that all members of society can better adapt themselves to the improving selection mechanism based on merits.

Schools and administrations are the mainstay of education for the satisfaction of the people. However, according to the above analysis, the responsibilities that schools and educational authorities have to take for the education that people are unsatisfied with are quite different from what is usually imagined. In real life, parents often complain about schools forcing their children to stay up late preparing for examinations, while grumbling that schools stress is too light for assigning too little schoolwork to students. Likewise, the government often denounces schools prioritizing scores and ranking, while it is very happy for having a top scorer in the college entrance examination. Faced with this situation, we have reason to believe that schools and educational authorities may not be to blame or primarily to blame for the education that people are not satisfied with.

In saying this, it is not necessary to evade the responsibilities that schools and education departments should assume when analyzing the reasons why education in China is not satisfactory. Instead, I want to point out that the main responsibility of schools and education departments is not on the surface but at a deeper level, if we want to change the current situation and make China’s education entirely satisfactory. China has made basic education universally available and will soon popularize higher education. Therefore, people who are responsible for the merit-based selection mechanism are well-educated; what values they have and how they understand the function and opportunities of education has a direct impact on what role the merit-based selection mechanism will play and what educational culture China will have. Likewise, how they respond to the merit-based selection mechanism will also affect the value orientation and operational tendency of the schools where their children study. Of course, schools and even the entire educational sector have a lot to do to develop education that people are satisfied with. However, the most important job may be for students, for future members of the society, for government officials and parents of children, but also for educators, education decision-makers, and education administrators themselves to form more accurate education values, including a more correct view of education.

(The author is a member of the Academic Committee of Shanghai Academy)