As China toasts 50 years of communism, Katherine Forestier looks at three aspects of the progress in its schooling system
SCHOOLS across China are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China next week with a heavy helping of national
Through songs, dances and speeches students will extol the achievements of 50 years under communist rule, including progress in education.
Zhang Ling, a secondary teacher in Guangzhou, described the fervour growing in schools: "They have been taught how to love their motherland and build a strong national spirit, and to know China's good traditions," she said.
In Hong Kong, academics say that the communist state's achievements in education are by no means small. In 1949 around 80 per cent of young and middle-aged people were illiterate. Today, illiteracy has dropped to around 5 per cent and six-year primary schooling is nearly universal.
Compulsory nine-year education has been achieved in the more developed cities. Even in rural areas China has done well compared with other countries at a similar stage of development, according to Cheng Kai-ming, pro vice-chancellor at the University of Hong Kong.
Schooling today is based on the education policy of Chairman Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping, who, in the 1980s, stripped it of much of its revolutionary style. "Education should be developed in view of worldwide trends, geared to the country's modernisation, construction and future development," he said.
Textbooks have changed radically since the Maoist era, when the first words children learned to read were: "Chairman Mao lives in our hearts for ever. We love Chairman Mao." But the nationalist tone remains.
"What they seek to teach the children will never change," said Chen Xianyun, of the People's Education Press. "That is love for the motherland, love for the people and love for the communist party of China."
Political upheavals caused major set-backs over the past 50 years. Ms Zhang said: "In the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), teenagers had no chance to go to school. They and their teachers had to go to the countryside to receive re-education from the workers and peasants,"
She was among those forced out of secondary school at that time.
"Today's students are very lucky. They have a right to receive a proper education. We knew nothing about the outside world when we were growing up. Now students and teachers must master the latest information technology."
Despite the progress, schools in China face major problems, particularly in poor rural areas where schools are starved of basic equipment and well-trained teachers.
The ministry of education this year launched a programme of radical reform and curriculum development for the 21st century. These include popularising nine-year education, curriculum and assessment reform, strengthening moral and psychological education, strengthening the kindergarten sector and improving opportunities for China's ethnic minorities. It is also encouraging the private sector to help share the financial burden.