WASHINGTON (CN) - China, a country with 260 million students, agreed with the United States to increase student exchange, expand language programs and consult regularly on education policy, in agreement signed Thursday. "It amazes me how similar our challenges are, and the huge sense of urgency we share," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
"China is still a developing country while the United States is one of the first developed countries. You have a lot of experience," added Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong.
Chinese Minister of Education Zhou Ji and Duncan then signed an agreement enhancing the educational exchange between the two countries.
The agreement, which Duncan called the first of its kind, expands student exchange and language programs, and sets up regular consultation between the two countries involving education policy.
Needless to say, China has made enormous progress in education. "Sixty years ago, eighty percent of Chinese people didn't know how to read or write," said Yandong. "Today, it is only three percent."
Today, 300 million Chinese are learning English and 98.5 percent of school age girls are enrolled in school, she said.
But the nation also has big plans for the future. $40 billion has been designated for student subsidies as China strives to educate its poorer populations.
"We are trying very hard to have equal education for all, but in reality, we are still falling short of what is required," said Yandong.
Apart from asking Duncan for his advice on what goals China should set for education, and how it can ensure the best quality of education, the nation also asked its own citizens in January what kind of education they want.
Duncan said he will soon go on a listening tour himself. "Luckily, I have a few less people to listen to than you," he joked.
Duncan underlined our nation's own goals to significantly increase the proportion of college graduates by 2020. He didn't detail, as Obama did Tuesday, that the U.S. hopes to have the highest graduation rate in the world.
Yandong took the opportunity to highlight cooperation between the China and the U.S. She thanked the United States for its support after last year's earthquake. She visited the State University of New York, where 100 earthquake victims are attending school, and said they've been well taken care of. "They were all shiny and sunny," said Jianmin.
"The Chinese-United States relationship has become the most important bilateral relationship in the world," she said.
Yandong added that the U.S. and China are great nations, saying we both want to prosper through education. "I am sure we'll have many years in the future to work together."
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