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Chinese private education reform through the lens of the capability approach



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Dementyeva, Yuliana 


This thesis seeks to understand how private education reform in China was interpreted and implemented at the school level. Using the capability approach as a conceptual framework, this research first argues that Chinese private education reform policies can be conceived of as capability-enhancing with the aim to promote four types of education capabilities: practical capabilities, cross-cultural capabilities citizenship capabilities, and 21st century capabilities. Practical capabilities are defined as freedoms to pursue sports, arts, crafts, and industry-related education opportunities. Cross-cultural capabilities involve the freedom to access international curricula, language education, and knowledge about foreign cultures. Citizenship capabilities refer to the freedoms to be a Chinese citizen, be patriotic and knowledgeable about traditional Chinese culture and core socialist values. Finally, 21st century capabilities include the freedoms to develop critical thinking, communication, collaboration, leadership, independence, and innovation skills.

This thesis applies the tools of policy instruments framework to explore how the 50 key private education reform policy documents targeted these capabilities at the national level using inducements, mandates, capacity-building, system-changing and hortatory policy instruments. Subsequently, a multi-site multi-method qualitative approach is employed to trace policy interpretation and implementation down to the level of 23 private schools visited during fieldwork. Interview and observational data are analysed through the lens of the capability approach to assess how the four groups of capabilities were understood and interpreted by the local authorities and private school leadership in the process of private education reform implementation. The thesis then argues that reform implementation process at the case level was an outcome of a dynamic interaction among the actors of policy implementation network within the context of local education market conditions. Three actor-based conversion factors are distinguished, which are parental demand, local policy priorities and school leadership synergy. The interactions among them are explored to argue that the alignment or misalignment of these conversion factors could promote or restrict target capability formation in selected case-schools, followed by the examination of context-based conversion factors and their impact on policy implementation network.

Discussion argues that the separation of conversion factors without addressing how they interact with each other oversimplifies the policy implementation context and calls for a deeper understanding of these interactions, emphasizing the importance of accounting for real-world complexities and shifting the focus from abstract justice ideals to evaluating policies based on their impact on individual capabilities, integrating values and personal agency. The thesis concludes with a discussion of how the findings relate to the issues of education policy decentralisation, experimentation, and accountability within policy implementation networks. It is argued that the role of private education within the socialist education system of China has been the provision of diversified education opportunities to supplement state education provision and offer niche education pathways to suit the diversified needs of the Chinese population.





Hayward, Geoffrey


capability, capability approach, Chinese education policy, Chinese private education reform, private education


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge