When Confucius was traveling to Wei, Ran Qiu was driving his carriage. Confucius said: “There are so many people!” Ran Qiu said: “When there are so many people, what should be done next?” “Enrich them. “When they are rich, what should be done next?” “Educate them.”
Confucius could just as easily be talking about modern-day China here rather than the ancient state of the Wei. The scale may be exponentially different, but the challenges and the steps needed to overcome them remain the same.
In the past thirty years, China has made enormous strides in following Confucius’s advice to “enrich” the population, bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Now it faces the equally daunting task of improving the education system so that its people are equipped to help the the country transition to a knowledge-based economy.
This will require a move from traditional rote-based learning techniques to methods that promote more creative and collaborative thinking. Reforming a system that has been entrenched for thousands of years will not be easy, but given the huge progress that China has made in developing its economy and opening itself up the world I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.