A heinous question, I know. We must not question the education-industrial complex!
From Tyler Cowen’s blog:
Advancement in China’s school system was highly competitive, and the odds of reaching the top of the educational ladder were very steep. Of the 32.9 million children who entered primary school in 1965, only 9 percent could expect to enter junior high school. Only 15 percent of junior high school entrants, in turn, could expect to graduate and enter high school. Among the highly selected groups that graduated from academic high schools, only 36 percent could expect to enroll in a university. Of those who entered primary school in 1965, only 1.3 percent could expect to attend an academic high school, and only one-half of 1 percent could expect to attend university.
Of course the Caplanian point is that China managed a lot of post-1979 economic growth with what was fundamentally a not very educated generation.