Less Marx, more science for Peking students

In another reversal of Maoist policies, China's most prestigious university is reducing its requirements for political study and strengthening its course offerings in the applied sciences, economics, and law. These and other changes planned in the curriculum for Peking University beginning with the 1985-86 school year are a result of the national reforms in education announced two weeks ago.

Courses under the new system are expected to concentrate less on Marxist and Maoist theory and more on economic reforms instituted by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the last six years.

The latest changes indicate a significant loosening of the government's grip on the content of Chinese education and especially on the sensitive requirements for political study for China's 1.3 million university students.

``The curriculum in our universities needs dramatic changes,'' said Ding Shi-sun, president of Peking University, at a press meeting on Friday.

``In the past, we emphasized the training of highly specialized experts,'' said president Ding, the former head of the university's mathematics department. ``Now we think students should have a broader and more general knowledge of developments in science and technology.''

The government's new educational policies reverse those of Mao Tse-tung during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. Under Mao, technical and vocational education were brought to a halt and schools emphasized political indoctrination.

``The purpose of the reforms in political education is to improve students' ability to deal with problems in international affairs,'' said Ding.

He observed that the students at Peking University were generally heartened by the new policies on education. ``But the younger generation is very impatient and wants to accomplish the reforms overnight,'' he said.

Beginning this year, social science and applied science students at Peking University will have to take fewer credits of political courses during their four-year degree program.

This will reduce class time for political study to two to three hours per week instead of three to four as in the past. The school's plans call for required courses in socialism, political economy (especially the theories of China's economic reforms), the economy of the ``imperialist'' and capitalist countries, and Marxist philosophy and theories of historical materialism. Social science students will have to take an additional course on modern Chinese history, according to Su Zhi Zhong, dean of the faculty of social sciences at Peking University.

Plans to reintroduce compulsory military training, however, may make more demands on students' time than are removed by the trimming of political studies. Starting this fall, Peking and Qinghua universities will begin a pilot program that eventually will include all 50 million high school and college students in China. The training will involve military drills as well as classroom lectures.

The changes in political study, said Professor Su, aim to raise student interest and to reduce duplication of material already covered in high school, where students are required by the Ministry of Education to have 80 hours of political lessons per year for two years.

``There is too much repetition in political lessons and little relation to the daily lives of students, so some students have lost interest,'' Su admitted.

On the controversial subject of teaching methods, Ding said that now there was ``vigorous discussion'' which he hoped would result in changes in the next few years. Many critics say that Chinese teaching practices are too rigid and rely too heavily on lectures without active participation by the students.

``In the future, teachers will do less lecturing and give students more time to read and to think,'' president Ding said, though he admitted it was difficult to change longstanding habits of both teachers and students.

The Peking University officials also announced plans to launch a new school of economics and open a statistics department. The shift in emphasis from theoretical to more applied sciences was the result of the government's large-scale economic construction program, they said.

The two aspects of China's recent educational reforms that most apply to universities, according to Ding, are changes in the student admissions and job assignment systems and the expansion of decisionmaking power by institutions of higher learning.

Peking University has already begun a minor reform in admissions policy by accepting some 8 percent of its 5,000 students on the strength of recommendations from high school teachers and without requiring a passing mark on the nationwide university entrance exams.

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