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Building an early childhood education workforce in China: the influence of the knowledge economy, local contingencies and policy development

posted on 22.02.2017 by Fan, Xin
In 2010, China’s national government committed to provide universal access to Early Childhood Education (ECE) by 2020 and to correspondingly enhance the number and quality of ECE teachers. Drawing on knowledge economy and labour process theory that suggest workforces have tended to upgrade rather than degrade over time, the thesis adopts a theoretical framework that links ECE workforce development to the broader labour process and socioeconomic conditions. In so doing, it documents and theorises how, why and with what success China’s ECE workforce is being developed. A mixed method approach is embraced. Quantitatively, a provincial-level panel dataset is utilised to illustrate the ECE workforce developed in terms of quantity and quality and to examine how levels of knowledge economy development and other socioeconomic factors contribute to this development. Qualitatively, semi-structured interviews and policy documents are analysed to garner kindergarten directors’ views regarding the requirements of the ECE teacher, local contingencies, the perceived effect of government initiatives since 2010, and opinions on how to facilitate ECE workforce development. Several findings are generated from the thesis. First, the Chinese ECE workforce is found to be upgraded and become more interdependent over time in ways that are consistent with knowledge economy/labour upgrading theory. This trend is evidenced by the provincial-level quantitative data that shows the ECE workforce across China has been expanded and upgraded during the period 2005-2012. The level of knowledge economy development is positively correlated with the growth of the ECE workforce, both in size and quality. This is also evidenced in the interview data, where kindergarten directors suggest the desired characteristics of kindergarten teachers have expanded, particularly in relation to their ability to apply sophisticated skills and undertake research. Taken together, these findings support the theoretical framework. Second, the local socioeconomic environment is found to impact the upgrading-socialization process significantly. The regression results of the quantitative data reveal that economic-related variables positively influence both the quantity and quality of the ECE workforce, while mixed results are generated regarding the impact of government-related factors. The qualitative data identifies three groups of contingencies that are of substantial concern to ECE practitioners and suggests that failing to address these issues adequately is likely to hamper the process of ECE workforce development. The third main finding relates to the effect of ECE policy development after 2010. The interview data identifies a wide range of policy impacts relating to resources, institutional change and the social status of teachers. It is evident that current government initiatives are in line with the central government’s commitment to expand and upgrade the ECE workforce. Finally, the thesis generates implications for policy makers and practitioners. It is suggested that more emphasis should be accorded to supporting teaching, enhancing compensation and strengthening accountability. Bearing in mind that the labour process of the ECE workforce is embedded in the broader labour process and the knowledge economy, the thesis contributes to theory and practice through revealing the direction of ECE workforce development and highlighting how government can facilitate this process.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Chris Nyland

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Business and Economics