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1. Introduction

From the third industrial technological revolution in the 1940s and 1950s, human society began to enter the information age. The information society needed workers with a high level of knowledge, and traditional learning and teaching methods needed to change. Teachers do not only represent social intellectuals, they are also the key medium for educational reform. Therefore, how to train teachers for the information age became an urgent problem at that time. In order to improve the quality and quantity of teachers, many Western countries began to implement reforms in the teacher education system. For example, in the United States, after the Second World War normal schools were expanded into liberal arts colleges or comprehensive universities, and teacher-oriented education gradually transformed into non-teacher-orientated education. In the United Kingdom, the "James report" (1982) made a three-phase proposal for teacher training, including standardized higher education, professional orientation training, and on-the-job training. With the disappearance of Western normal schools, "normal education" was replaced by "teacher education" in the relevant institutions. In the past 40 years in China, there has also been a transition from "normal education" to "teacher education", with its own history and characteristics.

The Implications of "Shifan Education", "Normal Education" and "Teacher Education"

Strictly speaking, we should not consider the terms "shifan education" in the Chinese context and "normal education" in the Western context to represent the same concept. Although both of them represent the human activity of training teachers, their historical evolution, social roles, and cultural heritage are different.

The concept of "shifan" evolved from ancient times. "Shi" and "Fan" first appeared in the "Yang Zi Fa Yan" text edited by Yang Xiong at the end of the Western Han Dynasty: "Shi, the Fan (model) of man." The joint term "shifan" first appeared in "Hou Han Shu" ("History of the Later Han Dynasty"): "Jun (gentlemen) can become shifan through study and the Jinshen (ancient officials) will admire you." However, the term "shifan education" did not appear until modern times, when the modern school system gradually became established. At the opening ceremony of Jingshi (now Beijing Normal University) in 1908, the Minister of Education Zhang Zhidong said: "Shifan education is the origin of all education, and Jingshi will be the standard for education throughout the country" (Li Hongwu, 2009, p. 69). Since then, "shifan", "shifan education", and "shifan schools" have become synonymous with teacher training activities.

In English, the concept of "Normal" originated from the Latin "Norma", meaning a norm or standard, or level or type of social norm. Taking the USA as an example, the first private normal school was established in 1823. In the main Western countries, normal education developed with the establishment of national education systems in the 19th century. In this regard, China and the West are similar. We can say that "shifan education" and "normal education" were both a response to the requirements of the national education and represent a kind of standardized approach to teacher training.

The concept of "teacher education" emphasizes teachers as professionals, with a higher degree of professionalism, a training object that needs continuous growth, and an important role in the national education system. In modern China, "the modern teacher education system is based on the teaching qualification system. It takes the modern teacher training university as its main institution, and teacher professionalization as its core value. Standards for professional teaching, teacher education institutions, teacher education curricula, and teacher education quality assurance are rules of conduct that should be followed" (Zhu Xudong, 2007, p. 17).

The Necessity and Ability to Explain the Transition through Foucault's "Discipline"

Knowledge-power is the basic logic Foucault applied to historical and social issues. Foucault believed that power and knowledge were directly related, and that power created knowledge (Foucault, 1975: 29). By Foucault's own admission, his thought is derived from the pursuit of subjectivity in the three dimensions of "knowledge, power and ethics". In my own understanding, Foucault's analysis of power does not tell us to rebel against the power system, but to remain aware of the existence of subjectivity, and avoid falling into any inappropriate fanaticism.

Foucault's norms and discipline indicate that education should be considered from the perspective of the "discipline system" and this is how "normal education" can best be represented. Firstly, Foucault believed that discipline was oriented to the future and it would make everything more consistent with future trends. Correspondingly, education is future-oriented, teachers are the main players in education, and teacher education is undoubtedly oriented to the future. In addition, Foucault believed that the object of discipline had four characteristics: unitary, organic, created, and combined (Foucault, 1975: 188). Therefore, the teacher education system is regarded as a disciplined object which exists as a unit, which is organic and created, which is combined with goals, curricula, assessment and the reform of the teacher education system, which has always had the goal of training teachers to meet the quality and quantity required, and whose effect is continuous and cumulative. Last but not the least, Foucault believed that the strength of the norm was operated through discipline. Since the 18th century, norms have been combined with the law, the Bible, and tradition, which have set new boundaries for these norms (Foucault, 1975: 207). They have also established general guidelines, as a minimum or an average standard that must be considered, and an appropriate standard that must be achieved. Indeed, "standardized" is defined as a compulsory principle in education, particularly for the establishment of a "normal school". In the system of discipline, comparing, distinguishing, arranging, assimilating, and excluding (Foucault, 1975: 206) are all means of achieving the "norm". And the norms are constantly consolidated, updated, and established in the course of the operation of discipline powers. More attention should be paid to the relationship between the "norms" and "normal education".

Foucault's historical investigation of a discipline society provides a macroscopic perspective to analyze the transition. Foucault believes that the formation of a discipline society is closely linked to a series of extensive historical processes, including economic, legal-political, and scientific processes. Currently, the disciplinary system covers all aspects of society, such as factory production, knowledge spreading, war machines and so on. In the 18th century, the population soared and the migrant population increased. As the development of production institutions became increasingly large and complex, production costs also increased, along with profits. Disciplinary methods were adapted to these two processes, to regulate their mutual relations.

Foucault's understanding of "reform" has had an explicit influence on the study of educational reform. Foucault believed that "reform" followed the path of a "disordered state, where the distribution of power is not right, and new strategies and principles are needed to keep pace with social development" (p. 91). And the primary goal of reform is to achieve "a regular function" and "simultaneous development with society." That is also why reform does not mean updating the theoretical basis, it means updating the strategy. Foucault believed that the "reforms" proposed in legal theory and planned in various programs were political or philosophical manifestations of this strategy. So perhaps we should pay more attention to strategic changes in teacher education systems.

The Major Changes from "Normal Education" to "Teacher Education"

In recent years, some remarkable policies on teacher education have been announced and some important projects have been launched. These include the "Comprehensive Opinion of the CPC Central Committee and State Council on Comprehensively Expanding Team Building for Teaching Staff in the New Era" (January 20, 2018), (1) the "Action Plan for the Revitalization of Teacher Education (2018-2022)" (February, 2018), (2) and the "Rural Teacher Support Program (2015-2020)" (June, 2015). In these policy documents, "teacher team building" is an important concept at the national level of development, while "teacher education" is the main channel for raising the number and quality of teachers, and it has become a fixed point of reference. But there are still some important documents that use the term "Shifan Education", such as the "Teacher Law" (1993). (3) In May 2001, the concept of "teacher education" was used for the first time in the text of the national education policy to replace the concept of "normal education" which was used for quite a long time in the past. (Yu, 2016: 472). During the past 40 years, there have been three main changes in the teacher education system, as follows.

In terms of teacher education institutions, there has been a shift from the "old three levels" to the "new three levels". The "old three levels" refers to the Secondary Normal College (mainly training primary school teachers), the Higher Normal College (mainly training junior high school teachers), and the normal colleges and universities (mainly training high school teachers). The "new three levels" refers to three levels of education: college, undergraduate, and postgraduate.

In terms of teacher education standards, there has been a shift from external standardization to internal standardization. In 1980s, the standardization of the conditions for normal school was established, mainly in areas such as "arts and sports teaching equipment", "electronic education equipment", "school planning", "science teaching equipment" etc. (Yu, 2016: 405). Local government authorities increased their investment in all kinds of institutions to accelerate the construction of laboratories, libraries, practice sites, social practice basements, etc. At the beginning of the 21st century, the direction became more internal, focusing on areas such as standards for teachers' educational technology, teacher education curricula, teachers' professional competence, "National Training Program" curricula, etc.

In terms of policy support, there has been a shift from focusing on the whole to paying great attention to special groups. In the 21st century, central and local government authorities have continuously increased their policies and financial support for the development of rural teachers, and the improvement of rural teacher training. There are some special projects such as "Free Education for Normal College Students", the "Special Post Plan for School Teachers in Rural Compulsory Education", and the "Master Plan for Rural School Education Head Teacher Training". In particular, "the Rural Teacher Support Program" was promulgated in 2015.

A Foucauldian Analysis of the Shift from "Normal Education" to "Teacher Education"

Like the historical institutional approach, Foucault's approach also provides us with a framework for the analysis of "macro-structure, middle-level systems, and micro-actors" in the study of educational policy. Specifically, Foucault identifies the restructuring of the social and economic system, political system reform, technological system innovation, and changes in cultural philosophies as "macro-structure"; the allocation of government educational resources, the centralized management system, educational legislation and education policy content are identified as "middle-level systems"; while the formulation and implementation of educational policies, recipients, and appraisers are established as "micro-actors" (Baoxing, 2017).

The transition in the teacher education system from "Normal education" to "Teacher education" is an inevitable social development. In the 21st century, the population increase, economic growth, increased demand, information, and globalization are all challenges to education and to the students, teachers and systems at its core. So have the 40 years of reform been effective? The answer is yes. Foucault considered that the disciplinary system had a gain effect on the strengthening of social forces--increasing production, developing the economy, spreading education, and raising public moral standards (Foucault, 1975: 233). As teacher education system reform is within the disciplinary system, its gain effect is the inevitable result.

But we must be cautious in declaring that the teacher education system is more open. Specifically, we can say that it is more standardized. Foucault stated that Panopticism created a centripetal visibility and a horizontal invisibility, which means that the supervisor remains in a state of complexity that can be calculated and monitored, and the imprisoned person remains in an isolated and observed state of loneliness (Foucault, 1975: 224). The discipline society exists in the form of Panopticism and all system revolutions are the same. The reform of the policy-oriented teacher education system is part of a kind of "panorama", which means that national policies, laws, and regulations have a centripetal visibility, and individual institutions have a horizontal invisibility. The former causes the inability to adapt to local conditions and the latter leads to the inability to exchange experiences. Therefore, the more standardized system reminds us to pay more attention to individual and local differences.


(1.) See the whole policy text at the website:

(2.) See the whole policy text at the website:

(3.) See the whole policy text at the website:


Baoxing, Wang (2017). Some thoughts on historical institutionalism and methodology of education policy history research in china. Journal of Henan University (social science), Jan., 136-141.

Foucault, Michel (1975). Surveiller et punir. Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company.

Hongwu, Li (2007). 'Teacher education' cannot take the place of 'Normal education'. Educational research, 5, 68-72.

Xudong, Zhu (2007). Modern teacher education system of China. Journal of Beijing Normal University (social science), 4, 15-20.

Yu, Zeng (2016). Chinese teacher education history. Beijing: The Commercial Press.


Department of Education,

East China Normal University


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Article Details
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Author:Yarui, Qi
Publication:Knowledge Cultures
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jul 1, 2019

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