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Building China’s Teacher Workforce: Progress, Achievements and Development since 1949

By MOE | 2020-03-18 |   133

Over the past 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese Government have strived tirelessly to build the country’s teaching capacity and achieved a leap in the development of its teaching body. Despite limited resources, China has established the world’s largest education system bolstered by a well-structured, well-trained and highly motivated teacher workforce. This strong, high-quality workforce now constitutes a fundamental pillar in achieving China’s national educational goals to accelerate the modernization of education, offer quality education that meets people’s expectation and catapult the country to the top of world rankings in education. 

I. Outstanding progress made in 70 years of developing the teacher workforce 

As part of the work on fostering educational development, building teacher capacity has undergone radical change since 1949. In the current era of socialist reform and innovation with Chinese characteristics, the next chapter in teacher development is unfolding at great pace.

(1) From 1949 to 1977, China set up a comprehensive teacher training and education system, with a view to quickly meeting demand for teachers in educational development. The number of specialized normal universities and colleges rose from 12 to 58, while the number of secondary teacher training grew from 610 to1028. As the number of teacher training colleges and schools increased rapidly, a series of supportive policies and assurance mechanisms were applied to ensure the standardization and institutionalization of teacher workforce capacity building, which helped generate a reliable, capable and morally upright body of teachers and support the continuing growth of the national education system.

(2) From the beginning of the reform and opening-up policy to the early 2000s, a vast range of innovative and explorative strategies and measures were implemented to improve teacher education, support integrated reforms in teacher training and ensure the steady improvement of teacher wellbeing. For example, the establishment of Teachers’ Day represented due recognition of the indispensable contributions made by teachers to the socialist cause, and the implementation of tuition free policies and state sponsorship plans for students attending normal universities and colleges helped to shorten and close gaps in existing teacher education frameworks. During this period, teacher workforce capacity building became more standard and institutionalized by law, while the teacher education system became better organized and strengthened, featuring wide participation of non-teacher-training colleges and universities that provided teacher education programs. At the same time, with the rise of their social status and benefits, teachers developed a stronger sense of pride and experienced greater satisfaction from their profession.

(3) Since the 18th CPC National Congress, teacher workforce capacity building has been set as a fundamental task in national development. The Party and the central government have introduced a raft of strategies and measures for prioritizing teacher capacity development, attracting more people to the teaching profession and building a vast pool of skilled instructors. Based on emerging challenges and requirements in the new era and in accordance with the Party Central Committee’s new vision for teachers’ professional training and education that provides holistic and strategic guidelines for educational development, innovative methods and targeted policies have been adopted in teacher workforce reform, which have offered guidance for action and will continue to serve as a blueprint for teacher workforce capacity building efforts in the future.

II. Epic achievements in 70 years of developing the teacher workforce 

Through 70 years of relentless endeavor, China has built the world’s largest professional teaching body and established its own teacher policy and teacher education systems with Chinese characteristics. While the Chinese education sector has gradually gained an international reputation, China has made remarkable achievements and accumulated rich experience especially in teacher workforce development.

(1) A more comprehensive teacher policy system has been formed, with the focus shifting from meeting the demand for teachers at all levels of education in the 1950s to building a stable workforce of suitable, qualified teachers since the reform and opening up period. A highly diversified, well-structured policy network has been created to ensure connectedness and consistency among the overarching strategies of the central government, the ad hoc programs of the educational ministry, and the specific policies of local educational institutions, which has enhanced the implementation of teacher related policies as well as their impacts and facilitated the reform in teacher workforce development. In the meanwhile, through continuous improvements, the teacher policy system has provided great opportunities for China to showcase to the world its unique experiences while referencing and using international standards.

(2) The teacher education system has matured, from the teacher training exclusively offered by teachers’ schools to teacher education programs offered by both teacher training and non-specialized colleges and universities. As reforms in the area of teacher education have become mainstream, the integrated training and cultivation of teachers has been promoted to meet the needs of a step-change in the number and quality of teachers at all levels. By 2018, there had been 395 universities offering Bachelor’s degree program in teacher education, which included 151 normal universities, and 420 colleges offering teacher training programs, which included 151 specialized teacher colleges. Among the 1.585755 million students studying for a Bachelor’s degree in teacher education, 935,053 were registered in normal universities, and among the 778,811 students studying in colleges offering teacher training programs, 412,475 were registered in specialized teacher colleges. Additionally, a range of major reform initiatives have been launched in the past seven decades, enabling the successful system transformation and model upgrading for teacher education.

(3) As teacher numbers increase, the quality of the teaching workforce has also improved by leaps and bounds. At all educational levels, the number of full-time teachers has grown significantly. In 2018, China had 16.7285 million full-time teaching staff, 16.8 times higher than the number in 1949. To be more specific, in 2018, the number of full-time teachers in kindergartens stood at 2.5814 million, 40.77 times larger than the figure in 1965; the full-time teaching staff in primary schools, junior middle schools and senior middles schools reached 6.0919 million, 3.639 million and 1.8126 million, representing 6.29-times, 68.18-times and 128.47-times increases compared to 836,000, 52,600 and 14,000 reported in 1949, respectively. Also, the student/class-teacher ratio has improved remarkably. For instance, the student-teacher ratios in the education stages of junior middle schools and senior middles schools dropped from 15.82 and 14.79 in 1949 to 12.79 and 13.1 in 2018, while the class-teacher ratios in these education stages rose from 3.1 and 3.75 in 1997 to 3.64 and 3.64 in 2018, respectively. At the higher education level, the student-teacher ratio increased from 7.27 in 1949 to 17.56 in 2018. Moreover, the percentage of full-time teachers meeting qualification requirements or holding a Bachelor’s or a higher degree has risen to record levels at all educational stages. Specifically, the proportion of average primary school faculty with professional qualifications grew from 47.1% in 1978 to 99.97% in 2018, while the proportion of teachers meeting academic degree requirements in average junior and senior middle schools increased from 9.8% and 45.9% in 1978 to 99.86% and 98.41%, respectively. In higher education institutions, the percentages of teaching staff owning a Master’s or doctorate degree rose from 0.38% and 3.13% in 1984 to 24.37% and 36.51% in 2017. Furthermore, the distribution of the teacher workforce by age and professional title has become optimized. For example, the population of 45-year-old or younger teachers in primary schools, junior middles schools and senior middle schools stood at 4.3141 million, 2.4688 million, and 1.292705 million, accounting for 70.82%, 67.84%, and 71.32% of the entire teaching workforce at these three educational stages, respectively. The teaching staff holding a senior level professional title in higher education institutions improved substantially, from 8.88% in 1991 to 18.25% in 2018.

(4) The social status of teachers has been substantially raised, along with continuous improvements in the national average teacher salary, social security and benefits, professional recognition, career development and working conditions for teachers. For example, through the establishment of the salary assurance system, the national average teacher salary has grown from the bottom of the wage rankings for all sectors in the 1980s to the 7th among the 19 best paid industries in 2017. Compulsory Education Law and the Teachers Law were promulgated to enshrine the professional status of teachers and safeguard their legitimate rights and interests. A series of awards and honorary titles including China’s Exemplary Educators, National Outstanding Teachers, National Outstanding Educators, National Model Teachers, and Excellent Workers in the National Educational System have been selected and granted nationwide to inspire and motivate the teaching staff at all levels of education. In a positive environment facilitated by the government for teachers to take prides in and stay committed to their job, the value of teachers has been widely recognized by the public and the teaching profession has been more appealing than ever.

(5) As China opens up to the rest of the world, teachers in China have gained unprecedented influence around the globe. They have been more engaged in international educational exchanges and global educational governance and contributed more widely to the promotion of international cultural exchanges, the dissemination of advanced knowledge and technologies, and the sharing of development outcomes. For instance, China has opened over 500 Confucius Institutes around the world, which have benefited more than 50 countries and areas along the Belt and Road and covered each and every country in EU and in Central and Eastern Europe. Nearly 50,000 full-time and part-time Chinese teachers have provided training for a total of 9 million students of all types worldwide. In the area of international education aid, many teachers have travelled abroad to support the educational development in foreign countries and contribute to the realization of all-round education across the world.

III. Experiences and lessons learnt in 70 years of developing the teacher workforce

For 70 years, the Party and the central government have regarded teacher capacity building as a top priority in national strategic planning. The invaluable experiences and lessons learnt during the past seven decades have led to the following insights in the development of the teacher workforce:

(1) Central importance should always be attached to reinforcing the CPC leadership across all initiatives relating to teacher development, with a view to fully leveraging the advantages of the teacher workforce and safeguarding its long-term sustainability.

(2) The teaching workforce should always be prioritized as a primary pillar for national educational development and reform, which should be regarded as a prerequisite for the fulfillment of national educational goals.

(3) Emphasis should always be placed on raising the quality of teacher education, in order to avoid bottlenecks in quality teacher supply, improve the quality and cost efficiency of education, and ensure a ready pool of qualified teachers for China.

(4) It is always of necessity to secure the professional status as well as rights and interests of teachers, aiming to build a stable and motivated teaching workforce.

IV. A bright future for teacher workforce development in the new era

(1) China will continue to reinforce the Party’s leadership in all teacher capacity building and deepen reforms in teacher workforce development in the new era. Reform and innovation efforts will be stepped up to overcome institutional barriers and create space for expanding reforms. The Opinions of the State Council on the Comprehensive Deepening of Reforms and Building the Teacher Workforce for a New Era will be effectively carried out at all levels to achieve new progress in teacher capacity building.

(2) The development of the teaching workforce will remain a central task in national education development. In the future, the strategic importance of teacher capacity building will be more emphasized, through further improvements made in the quality of the teaching workforce, the teacher education system, the quality of students attending teacher-training universities, and the reform of faculty management.

(3) Teachers will enjoy high prestige and veneration and deserve the respect and status of a true profession. The government will provide more favorable policies and put more resources into the teaching workforce, including raising teacher salaries, offering benefits, building a reward and recognition system, and encouraging the public to carry on the fine tradition of reverence toward teachers.

(4) In accordance with the basic principle of offering quality education that meets people’s expectations, public satisfaction will be regarded as the fundamental criterion for the quality of teacher capacity building. Measures will be taken to respond to people’s concerns about education and tackle issues of widespread concern, such as closing the gaps in pre-school education, vocational education and lifelong education by strengthening the development of the teaching workforce.

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