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Japan’s two major national school reforms succeeded in helping transform the country from a premodern feudal society into a modern nation-state in the mid-19th century, and after World War II from a militarist society into a liberal democracy. Since then, there have been numerous reform initiatives. The key drivers of the reforms since the 1990s have been neoliberals, neoconservatives, progressive educationalists, and human rights advocates. Reflecting both struggle and collaboration among these groups, the reforms have been multidirectional and not necessarily consistent. The major reform directions identified are (a) decision-making becoming more decentralized, (b) educational offerings becoming more diverse and flexible, (c) the emergence of greater individual choice, (d) recognition of a widening gap among students and addressing equity and social justice, and (e) a greater role for outside-school providers. There is a significant degree of autonomy and discretion for actors in the middle (local governments, education boards, and schools) and teachers (both independently and collectively). They have utilized this in interpreting the national government’s directives, often avoiding direct challenges to the center.

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China has experienced major shifts from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, from centralization to decentralization, from state ownership to privatization, and from a decisive state to a weakened state. Despite China’s economic miracle, the country also faces unprecedented challenges, including rising social inequality, rural-urban divide, regional disparity, environmental degradation, declining health and education conditions, and polarization between the rich and poor. China’s profound socioeconomic and political transformations have led to significant fundamental changes to education in China, as manifested in its decentralization, marketization, and privatization. One significant paradigm change relates to the devolution of education power and policy from a centralized governance model to local governments. With the privatization and marketization of its education system, China has adopted a market-oriented approach with the orientation, provision, student enrollment, curriculum, and financing of education. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that there has been a withdrawal of the mighty state from its paternalistic role in the provision and subsidy of public education. Unfortunately, the market economy has further increased education inequalities. The maldistribution of resources and education opportunities raises important questions about issues of social justice and equity regarding who gets how much education as the social good.