Education and Healthcare
Qiu presents a unique view of the education and healthcare systems in China. He argues that both sectors are increasingly becoming commercialized. This is significantly placing the have-less or working class at a disadvantage, hampering their ability to bridge the gap between the different social classes. This increasingly serves to encourage the established social order, furthering discrimination, as quality education and healthcare, are increasingly becoming the preserve of a select few.
Qiu sees the commercialization of healthcare and of education as being amongst the new social challenges facing China as a country. He even proceeds to refer to them as being two of the “three mountains” (125). Qiu argues that the reforms being witnessed in education present what can be termed as a significant social condition. Especially for the young have less, more so when it comes to higher education. This is however not unique to China, as evidenced by demonstrations in Greece and Chile towards the increased commercialization of education (134). This is particularly disturbing, as aptly captured by Qiu when he says “…education has usually been regarded as a public sector and a social equalizer.” More so due to the fact that education has for quite a while been considered as the perfect opportunity for members of lower classes to rise (135). Considering the steady rise in higher education enrollment from 1980, this could prove a significant handicap towards the abolition of the social stratification that has affected China for a number of years. The commercialization of education has essentially become the opposite of an equalizer, because most young people from families unable to afford the new fees drop out of school, hence the cycle of poverty continues regardless of the generation involved.
The commercialization of education, has also according to Qiu,further created an opportunity for discrimination. Certain schools are bound to be discriminated against probably on the basis of performance or resources the school may posses. Further, the commercialization of previously public institutions, especially higher education, has resulted in a drop in the quality of education.
Seemingly most institutions in an attempt to exploit the existing business opportunities compromise on standard class sizes. The resulting upsurge in qualified personnel has also had the effect of exhausting opportunities within the job market according to Qiu. This can be seen when he claims “State-owned sectors, which used to provide secure jobs for young graduates are shrinking” (138). This lack of not just educational opportunities, but also job opportunities puts the less privileged in the society at a disadvantage.
The situation is not so different when it comes to healthcare, as due to the rising public health concerns, which Qiu attributes mostly to the increasing industrialization. Government contributions towards healthcare are increasingly becoming insufficient, while the number of privately owned healthcare facilities is rising. This commercialization of healthcare has significantly affected the health seeking behavior of the Chinese people. Qiu even poses that 41% of those who earn low incomes declined hospitalization despite doctor’s recommendations (142). Qiu poses that the most significant factor when it came to health seeking behavior was actually socioeconomic status.
Qiu proceeds to propose ICT as the best solution to both social mountains, as he argues that ICT could be used to provide telemedicine, as well as strengthen family ties, hence leading to greater care for the elderly who have been amongst those worst hit by the commercialization of healthcare. When it comes to education, the advent of ICT has increased access to educational opportunities which can be exploited, more so with the rise of online educational programs, which could undoubtedly be used to equalize the playing field by providing quality education opportunities, even for those coming from less privileged societies. ICT could at the same time be considered an avenue through which job opportunities can be created and utilized. A glimpse of what could be the future with technology as the main pillar, can be seen when Qiu says “it is time to reconsider the social role of ICTs in a different light-not as a tool of profit making but as welfare, a mechanism of equity and social inclusion….” (151). Once ICT is used as a major social pillar, Qiu suggests that full success is only achievable through ensuring complete participation in the decision making process. The involvement of the many stakeholders in implementation can also help bring about the realization of social equity through ICT. The main argument put forth by Qiu when it comes to solving inequalities through ICTs is therefore, to consider ICTs as social welfare, to which the have less, are just as entitled to as the have-mores..