Though India and China had started at the same pace, in the 1940s, to develop their educational structures, today there are stark differences between the two economies. China has been able to surpass India in various aspects like higher education, the influx of foreign students, investment in primary education and its effect on mass literacy etc. Does India really need to learn from China? What is China’s secret in educational success? Today, we will try to fetch out exactly that.

Before trying to endeavour below the surface for the reasons behind China’s strong educational structure, let us list down the things that are already there in front of us.

First of all, from the time of the Cultural Revolution in China, in the 1960s, primary education was made available for all, in the country. This directly affected the mass literary rate in China and ensured the highest number of enrollments in secondary or higher education. In India, however, democracy is a reality in case of electoral policy but in the case of education, reservations play a big role.

Secondly, China has invested in ways to attract foreign students to its higher education institutions and this has yielded great results.

China’s proactive approach in the field of education has also fetched numerous accolades and much recognition. A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that 15-year-old children in China displayed better IQ than the average child of that age. Chinese school students surpassed all when it came to financial know-how.

According to the Annual Status of Education Report in India, not even 50% of the rural youth in India, aged between 14-18 years, are capable of leading productive lives as adults. Therefore, it can be concluded that China has surely taken to some innovative ways to better the standard of education, the secret of which India is yet to discover.

A factor playing a big role is quotas in the Indian education system. With the aim of undoing historical inequalities of caste, the quota system was introduced in India. Initially implemented for Dalits and tribals on a temporary basis, the system continues to be followed even today. Other castes have also being covered by the scheme now.

The paradox is the fact that the system has neither been able to uplift the economic conditions of the backward classes nor has it made them significantly employable, outside the “government job” sphere. India today, is suffering from a two-fold crisis of an education system that fails to skill the youth for employment and an economic model that does not produce jobs. In both the aspects, China and other countries of the Far East are doing way better than India.

Competitive exams for selection of candidates for jobs, courses etc might be a modern phenomenon in most countries but in China, they have played a big role since the 10th century, even for the selection of soldiers. What does this tell us? China has, since ancient days, prioritized merit over everything else, being been totally impartial when it comes to talent. The system is followed even in the selection of public sector officials and this had yielded great results. Public administration, built on the ideals of meritocracy, enables an effective educational structure as well. Even in education, candidates are selected only on basis of merit and talent. In the 1960s, post the Cultural Revolution, China’s primary educational structure was made democratic, eliminating the partiality towards the elite class. The book – The China Model – Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy’ by Daniel Bell throws much light on this aspect.

China is one of the most powerful economies of the world today. But what we tend to forget is that an economy depends a lot on the political scenario of the state. China’s political reforms are as revolutionary as its economic policies. But when we think of Chinese policies, the first questions that come to mind are its issues with human rights and electoral democracy. What we decide to overlook is the power of meritocracy in the selection of power-points in the political system. Only highly talented professionals have been placed at powerful political positions in China since the last four decades. This not only resulted in efficient administration but also brought equality in society and positively impacted all areas including education.

If a comparative analysis is drawn between the two countries, it will be seen that India is way better than China when it comes to democratic governance. But in spite of people having numerous rights and voice in India, the governance and the education suffers. Research at the Harvard University suggests that India is lagging behind China because of its system of caste-based reservations. But through reservations, the backward classes have only got seats in colleges and jobs in government offices. Their social and financial statuses still remain neglected. Had there been administrative efficiency, these backward classes could have easily uplifted themselves to a better financial position.

The quota-system in India has placed numerous incompetent people in the position of teachers, policemen and lower-court judges, argues author and educationist, Gurcharan Das. Experts also believe that placing deserving candidates even at lower levels of administration, ensures efficient problem solving and strengthens the citizen’s belief in the government. Quotas and reservations compromise one of the fundamental responsibilities of a polity- that of nurturing and encouraging talent.

One cannot ignore other specific policies taken up by China to improve its education scenario. Chinese educational schemes are constructed with global standards as benchmarks. Publications drive in a lot of foreign students seeking higher education in China. Placing heavy importance to primary education and skill-based schooling from the start are few of the things that have strengthened the Chinese educational structure. But the underlying reason – China’s meritocracy-based administrative structure – can’t be ignored, especially when we know that one of the most debated and controversial topics questioning Indian administrative efficiency is reservations.

Last week, the Rajya Sabha passed the constitutional amendment for 10% reservation for the “poor” in higher education and government jobs. The question thus arises, is the government at all bothered about bettering the educational system of India? If yes, then the union of democracy and meritocracy might be the key!