In China, kids march to the unrelenting drumbeat of standardized testing beginning at age eight. The testing odyssey lasts through middle school and high school, reaching its apex with the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, commonly known as “Gaokao.” Passing this grueling, multi-day test is the sole prerequisite for college entry. Students spend years preparing for it.
So what does China have to show for its stringent academic system? Unemployment among Chinese graduates six months after leaving college is officially around 15 percent (some Chinese researchers estimate twice that number), despite the fact that a record 7.26 million young people will graduate from the country’s many universities this year—a number seven times greater than just 15 years ago.
At the same time, according to the Nikkei Asian Review, an acute shortage of factory workers throughout China is causing managers to hire students from technical schools as apprentices. Yukon Huang, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, reports that China’s non-graduate unemployment is as low as 4 percent, causing graduates to consider blue-collar jobs despite their college degrees.
India is facing similar problems. One in three Indian college graduates under the age of 29 is unemployed, according to a November 2013 report issued by the Indian Labour Ministry. Experts report that skill development programs and college education are not creating the sort of training that is in demand in the manufacturing and services sectors.
Meanwhile, ICEF Monitor, a marketing intelligence provider for the international education industry, reports that South Korea’s emphasis on academics is beginning to see diminished returns. Despite education spending that is significantly above the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) average as a percentage of GDP, South Korea’s rate of graduate employment among university-educated 25-34 year-olds is just 75 percent, ranking it among the lowest in OECD countries, and well below the average of 82 percent.
After following the academic testing mantra for more than a decade, these countries are totalling the results—millions of stressed-out graduates with skills that oftentimes don’t match up with two of the most pressing needs of their societies: first, young workers who are technically trained; and second, individuals who are encouraged to be innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers.
China is only beginning to face this new realization head on. Its education ministry recently stated that it wishes to turn 600 of the nation’s universities into polytechnic schools in order to produce more technical graduates. In many areas of the country, factory jobs are paying more than entry-level office positions—a clear attempt to steer more potential white-collar workers back into empty blue-collar jobs.
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