Journal of Technology Education

Journal of Technology Education

Current Editor: Chris Merrill,
Previous Editors: Mark Sanders 1989-1997; James LaPorte: 1997-2010

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Volume 3, Number 1
Fall 1991

               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