Plan calls for 36 million skilled workers

By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-28 08:36

China will spend more than 14 billion yuan (US$1.72 billion) on vocational education during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), with the ultimate goal of cultivating some 36 million skilled workers, according to the Ministry of Education.

This marks a big change from previous plans, which cut spending on vocational education. The 11th Five-Year plan marks the first time that the government has increased spending on this crucial area in the past decade, according to article posted on the website of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a national advisory body.

As demand for skilled workers has grown in recent years, education officials have sought measures to attract more students to vocational schools. However, some experts warn that such efforts will face challenges without more social and legal support.

"The effort (to develop vocational education) will not only meet the demands of the country's economic development, but also help facilitate social equality," Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told education experts at a seminar earlier this month.

The premier said solving problems in educating, training and finding jobs for vocational school students, and further integrating formal education with internships would be crucial factors in improving vocational education.

In the latest effort to resolve these issues, the Ministry of Education vowed earlier this month to spend 2 billion yuan (US$250 million) on a pilot programme to build 100 higher vocational colleges.

This marks the first time the ministry has earmarked special funds for vocational education.

The ministry has already spent 2.5 billion yuan (US$312 million) to help support the construction of secondary-level vocational schools throughout the country.

The ministry has also called on vocational colleges to establish professional certification institutes, which would enable vocational students to graduate with both professional and educational credentials.

There are currently more than 1,300 vocational schools or colleges in China, but most of them have out-dated facilities and methodologies. Many also suffer from financial difficulties and are unable to recruit students because of an entrenched social bias against vocational education.

The ministry's spending plan is aimed at developing skilled workers who can play a key role in China's efforts to modernize its economy, education officials and experts say.

A recent survey of enterprises in 44 cities by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security found that enterprises need 14 per cent of all workers to be skilled workers. At present, only 4 per cent of workers are skilled.

"The lack of skilled workers has affected the quality of the products made in our country," said Liu Zhanshang, director of the Ministry of Education's vocational education department.

Liu said products made in Germany and Japan, where first-line workers are often better trained than their Chinese counterparts, are generally thought to be of a higher quality than those made in China.

Yu Zuguang, the deputy dean of the Vocational Education Research Centre under Ministry of Education, echoed Liu's comments.

"China is still in its initial stages of industrialization, and so the country is hungry for professional workers,"said Yu, who added that the experience of some developed countries was instructive.

For example, half of all secondary school students in Japan and South Korea are mid-level vocational programmes. And roughly 70 per cent of the students in Germany are in vocational programmes.

By contrast, the ratio in China is only 38.6 per cent.

Observers say vocational education should be promoted among people from all walks of life.

"With universities enrolling ever more students, many parents in this country are eager to see their children receive a higher education. Some of them might be ashamed to see their children go to vocational schools because of a bad academic record from middle school," said Cheng Fangping, an expert at the China National Institute for Educational Research.

The fact that skilled workers earn much less than famous academics tends to reinforce the bias against vocational education, added Cheng. The education expert called for more legislation to support vocational education in China.

Cheng said developed countries like Germany and the United States, encouraged enterprises to provide vocational training by extending them tax breaks.

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