ABSTRACT

In China, market reforms dating from the late 1970s have brought dramatic if uneven improvements in living standards, along with fundamental changes in class structure and unprecedented economic inequality. The school system, a key vehicle for social mobility in any modern society, has changed radically during the same period. Under China’s reform process, the question of how to restructure the educational system to sustain rapid economic development emerged as a significant policy focus. Major changes occurred in educational provision and access, the quality of schooling, and the economic consequences of schooling. By the turn of the century, the educational system had diversified in structure, finance, and content; it had become more marketized; and it was serving an increasingly disparate student body. A combination of economic and educational policy choices ultimately expanded overall access and created new space for local curricular and financial innovations. These choices also exacerbated disparities in school resources across urban-rural, regional, and socio-economic lines. At the same time, market reforms created a labor market that increasingly rewarded the highly educated.