School days in China look tougher as country announces education reforms

The Chinese Communist Party revealed plans yesterday to overhaul China's educational system. The plans include making education through the Chinese equivalent of junior high school compulsory, shifting millions of students into vocational training programs, loosening government controls over schools and universities, and liberalizing university-admission policies.

These and other changes are the first major reforms in education since 1977, when Chinese officials sought to undo some of the damage suffered during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Officials reintroduced competitive examinations for admission to schools and universities, and schools again stressed academic subjects and technical skills rather than political indoctrination.

``The scope of this educational-system reform is very wide,'' said Yu Fu Zeng, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, at a press conference.

Mr. Yu said the purpose of the reforms is to provide a better-educated Chinese labor force that will meet the requirements of the government's economic development programs.

Yu cited a number of defects in China's present educational system. These include rigid government control over schools and universities, general problems with the quality and quantity of primary and secondary schooling, a shortage of teachers and insufficient teacher training, inadequate development of technical and vocational training, and serious problems with school curriculum and discipline.

The party's educational reforms aim to overcome these shortcomings by providing guidelines for the ministry to implement institutional and administrative changes in the months and years ahead.

Deng Xiaoping, China's senior leader, has accused the now-jailed ``gang of four'' of sabotaging education during the Cultural Revolution. He has called on his followers to harness education to the goals of his modernization program, which he says will allow China to catch up with the West by the middle of the next century.

According to the party directive, the educational reforms include:

The introduction of a nine-year compulsory education system and delegating responsiblity for basic education to local governments.

The timetable for achieving this goal will vary, depending on the level of economic development in different regions of the country. The most developed cities and coastal regions, where one quarter of China's more than 1 billion people live, are expected to reach this goal by 1990. The rest of the country should follow by 1995.

There is no compulsory education law in China, but most children in urban areas attend primary school. Some 136 million were enrolled in primary school in 1983, and about 44 million in secondary school, according to official sources. About 1 in 8 primary-school students completes secondary school, which is roughly equivalent to junior high school in the United States.

The shift of more students from regular secondary schools into technical and vocational schools where they will be trained in specific job skills.

During the Cultural Revolution, technical and vocational education was brought to a halt. Then schools emphasized political indoctrination and work skills were learned on the job. The government has established thousands of new vocational schools since the late 1970s, and many regular secondary schools have been converted into vocational training centers.

Yu said that enrollment in specialized vocational schools last year amounted to 32 percent of the enrollment in secondary schools and that the Ministry of Education aimed to increase that to 50 percent by 1990.

Revising the admission system to institutions of higher education and granting more autonomy to universities and institutes.

``State-planned admissions will continue to be the bulk of the intake for higher education institutions,'' Yu said. But there will also be provisions for organizations which require trained personnel to pay tuition for their students, he said. Finally, a limited number of self-financed students will be permitted.

This year, China's institutes of higher learning will accept some 560,000 incoming students. Of these, about 50,000 will be placed under special contractual arrangements. There are now only a handful of self-financed students, who have to pay an estimated 1,000 yuan ($360) in tuition each year.

Entrance to Chinese universities is very competitive. Government data show that 1 in 4 who sit for the entrance examinations passes, but many observers say this figure is too high and that the ratio is closer to 1 in 7 or even 1 in 10.

Once admitted to university, however, tuition is free, and most students receive a monthly subsidy of 20 to 25 yuan ($7 to $9) each month. In the future, students will be expected to contribute something toward their own tuition, though the amount will only be ``token,'' Yu said.

A major effort will also be made to raise the competence of teachers, and to increase their number, Yu said. China will celebrate its first Teacher's Day in September. Party leaders hope this will help improve the social status of teachers, which was severely damaged during the Cultural Revolution.

Teachers also were supposed to be the first to receive pay raises under wage reforms announced last December. But an official for the Ministry of Education would not say yesterday when the long-awaited pay increase would be granted. Primary- and secondary-school teachers now receive between 40 and 50 yuan ($14 and $18) a month, or about half the average pay of urban workers.

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