A fantastic article in Venture Beat, “Education is China’s secret weapon for tech dominance,” touches on some of the concepts we have discussed here on several occasions about retraining the workforce, and coincides perfectly with many of the comments that I have made over several years of experience with the educational landscape in China, whose universities, particularly in relation to business schools, I have found to be of a very high level with nothing to envy from a methodological point of view of many of the educational institutions I know in the West.
If a country has a major challenge ahead in education, that country is China. For years, its economy was based low labor costs, manual assembly and production models based on millions of workers subjected to repetitive and alienating tasks. For many years, manual manufacturing was the cheapest form of production, generating some quality control problems, but allowed it to supply the rest of the world with many product categories. Made in China was the norm for many years: companies without much intellectual capital producing designs from abroad.
Over time, China has evolved from Made in China to Engineered in China. The country is already home to some categories of the planet’s most sophisticated products: some of the best smartphones are designed and manufactured entirely in China, and the factories that produce them are robotized to levels that exceed that in many Western factories that were formerly leaders in their field.
Now, millions of low-skilled manual workers are having to retrain and re-educate to continue generating value added in an increasingly digital economy, in services, advanced manufacturing and programming. The country is becoming the largest producer of STEM graduates (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the world, surpassing India’s traditional hegemony in this field, and attracting foreign investment and graduates at a higher rate even than United States.
The regime that has been able to raise more citizens above the poverty level at any time in human history now intends to be protagonist of the greatest transition of our time by moving to an economy in which robots make everything and where humans have a completely different and redefined role. The outcome of this process is as yet unclear, but it is clearly inevitable. And if there is one thing that is critical in this transition it is the change in the educational system, of moving from a system based on rote learning to another that focuses on different aspects. When I saw in the business school of Fudan University classes entirely based on active discussion rather than in absurd note-taking, with Chinese teachers trained in foreign universities using fully participatory methodologies, I realized that what China was doing was stocking up on knowledge to update its then decrepit universities, and along a path of improvements that could prove unstoppable. In not too many years, and I mentioned this already after my first stay in 2006, it will seem normal for someone who wants the best training not go to an American or European university, but to a Chinese institution of higher education.
What the Chinese government wants now is to catch the edtech wave, the trend known as the new Fintech and do it the way that makes most sense: through investment and through supply of raw material, in this case through students it can put to the test. The edtech boom in China has already managed to place several universities in the country among the best in the world, and is now trying to generalize a roots and branches reform in education methodologies supported by huge investment: 230% growth in recent years, from $35 million in 2012 to $1.9 billion today, along with the availability of a large number of institutions where it can develop assays and test procedures.
To go from being the country with the world’s largest number of workers engaged in repetitive assembly tasks to leading the post-industrial revolution is no easy task. In the light of examples such as Foxconn, where factories of millions of workers were automated to leave only 15% of people on the ground raises the question of what China will do with all those people out of work in an economy not characterized by social protection. The answer is clear: China does not intend to commit economic and social suicide, but instead to carry out this transition in record time, generating educational models at all levels that can incorporate newly productive workers. And for that to happen means avoiding the isomorphism we seem set on in the Western world, where everything is standardized and innovation is stifled, but instead by leveraging its ability to invent and develop new methodologies and concepts.
In short, if you want to become the country of the future, start by focusing on education.
This article was written by Enrique Dans from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.