At Bloomberg Michael Schuman points out something else I’ve commented on from time to time:
An examination of the population more broadly, especially in the country’s vast rural hinterland, reveals that China compares poorly with many of its peers when it comes to education.
The startling findings can be found in a recent paper by scholars from Stanford University and China’s Shaanxi Normal University. Analyzing Chinese 2015 census data, the authors determined that a mere 30% of the country’s workforce — defined as all adults aged 25 to 64 — had some high-school education. Researchers argue that is a sound measure of both those workers’ skills and their ability to learn new ones on the job.
That share compares unfavorably with developed economies, where the comparable average is 78%. The proportion in the most advanced countries, including the U.S., Germany and Japan, is even loftier — over 90%.
Of course, China is a poorer country and has been for some time, so that disparity may not come as a surprise. However, China also stands up badly against other emerging economies that managed the leap into the rich leagues in the past half century, such as South Korea and Singapore. Those countries enjoyed a much higher level of high-school education before they broke through to developed status –– on average about 72% in 1980.
Nor does China match up especially well with its middle-income competitors. For instance, 46% of the working-age population in Brazil attended high school, 36% in Turkey and 34% in Mexico. China’s share is similar to much poorer Indonesia’s, at 31%.
I think that will be a persistent problem as long as China remains China. Despite its claim that 95% of its population is literate that’s a pious fiction, finessed by using a slippery definition of “literacy” that changes based on “station in life”. I would not be a bit surprised if its actual literacy rate were closer to 50% than 95%.
In Singapore most schools teach in English. South Korean schools teach in Korean using the beautiful, elegant, and ingenious Hangul writing system. China faces major impediments in education not related to poverty and even after adopting the simplified writing system presently used on the mainland those will not easily be overcome.