19 April 2012
The last stage of the Auckland Mayor’s trade delegation to China is is in Shanghai this week. Here are some verbal snapshots from the album:
- To get from Ningbo to Shanghai by road used to take 5-6 hours by road – now you can do it in three hours because they have built a 35 kilometre bridge across the sea of the Yangtze Delta. Why do we struggle with the issue of getting across the narrow Auckland Harbour?
- In Qing Dao we crossed the extensive harbour by going under it through a 7 kilometre tunnel. Again, why do we struggle……
- Each of the five cities the delegation has visited is building or extending an underground subway system. This is being achieved with seemingly little disruption to traffic (which it must be admitted is a little chaotic at its best).
- We drive past many schools and frequently see what appears to be the entire school doing physical exercises. This seems to be greatly valued. So too is walking to school. If children can walk to school in the cities of China why is it so impossible for children in New Zealand?
- It appears that many schools provide school lunches. In one of the provinces this week a group of students became ill after eating the lunches at a school. Both principals of the school were, it was reported, “immediately dismissed”. That is one form of accountability.
- My quest to understand the China approach to or system for trades training remains difficult largely because it is becoming apparent to me that there isn’t one. I have variously been informed that:
o if you wish to learn a trade you simply find someone who performs that trade and try and get employed by them;
o at the age of about fifteen you can go into a vocationally oriented senior middle school and learn work skills – I have yet to see inside one of these institutions;
o there is no qualifications framework for trades in China therefore it is very unclear just when someone becomes “qualified”;
Despite all this, the cars appear to continue to work, the buildings often display incredible quality of finishing, infrastructure is built at an amazing rate often to spectacular designs, chefs prepare meals, telephones work, fast broadband is widely available in the cities and so on. This area is for me a Chinese puzzle.
- China reports a growing concern at the unemployment rates among degree graduates. In light of the previous snapshot, you have to wonder if direction is a little askew. Then you remember that the opening up of China sees increasing influence of western patterns and systems and the imbalance between degree qualifications and technician / technical qualifications features in each of the western systems that China is increasingly influenced by. Could it be that the West is exporting its educational mistakes to the East?
- The importance of major events has been rammed home through regular mention of the importance of the Olympic Games to Beijing, the Asia Games to Guangzhou, the World Expo to Shanghai and so on. The impact of these events seems not to be based on the sort of spurious economic impact stuff that we are asked to accept but rather on the improvement to infrastructure and facilities that is the legacy.
But as I head towards home I am reflecting on the advantages of a lack of scale – we do have special opportunities in New Zealand to get it right because we are so small. We need to grasp this as an opportunity and not use it as an excuse for inaction or as a justification.