World Bank Report says that China can enhance competitiveness through lifelong learning

It is worth looking at the World Bank’s recent report Enhancing China’s Competitiveness Through Lifelong Learning by World Bank experts Dahlman, Zeng and Wang for several reasons. Like all powerful signifiers, the idea of ‘lifelong learning’ has a ‘feel-good’ ring about it. Who can be against learning, or learning over a lifetime? Any model that makes what is now a rather disjointed system more accessible, equitable and enjoyable–even if our learning is in the service of making the nation more competitive–should be looked at more closely. China is no exception here.

GlobalHigherEd can report that the WB Report is advancing is a very particular model for life-long learning in China. The key ideas are these are:

  • Get more of the population into some form of basic and ongoing education and training
  • Let the market drive the changes, with much more private provision of education
  • New ‘transparent’ information systems for the market to operate more effectively and for parents to make choices about education
  • Embrace standardised international tests of quality, including IALS, TIMMS and PISA
  • Quality assurance mechanisms coordinated by the state
  • New pedagogical models that promote ‘learning how to learn’
  • A stronger and more efficient loan system for students in the higher education sector
  • Harnessing the potential of distance education

In moving the report forward, the World Bank concludes:

The challenges of building China’s lifelong learning system are immense; however, so are the opportunities of drawing on the experience of other countries, and on the potential of new pedagogical techniques, new information technologies, and new providers.

Why, then, if the challenge is to draw on the experience of other models, is the World Bank model so singularly neo-liberal in its approach – markets, information, choice, loans and so on? It is a ‘one size fits all’ model that the Bank have been trying to promote in developing countries that are very diverse from each other.  Maybe the answer to ‘why this model’ lies in the fact that China is regarded as a potential huge market for investment. This includes education as a billion dollar business and a new global industry. In ‘setting the rules of the game’ – as the Bank summary states it is trying to do – it should be seen as setting the rules in the interests of private firms and western centred economies.


An 86 minute long World Bank video on themes contained in the report is available here. It was recorded on 17 September 2007.

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