We're still Communist...;Briefing

19th June 1998 at 01:00

A DECADE ago China allowed its southernmost outpost, the tropical island of Hainan, to go further than any other area in its experiments with market reforms.

Today, almost anything goes. Hainan is where the new rich from all over China come for their winter holidays, for what the locals call the three ss - sunshine, sand and sex.

Its schools face the challenge of providing the manpower for the island's change from impoverished rural backwater to a freewheeling modern economy. Most of its new factories and hotels rely on skilled labour and management from the mainland.

But classroom space has almost doubled since Hainan became a Special Economic Zone and independent province. Tertiary institutions now cater for 13,000 students, compared with 9,000 in 1988.

Schools such as the Number 27 primary had no desks, chairs or basic teaching materials before its change in status. Fu Yingbai, the principal, now shows off computer and language laboratories, library and music rooms that would be the envy of any western primary school.

Ms Fu said the funding came from the government and private sources, including some from its own farm, which raises pigeons, rabbits and other small animals.

The curriculum is also changing. English is taught daily, and computer studies two hours a week. The school supplements government-issued textbooks with experimental titles now being tested in the most open cities.

"If we only follow traditional methods we cannot meet the needs of reform," Ms Fu said. "In maths, for example, the goal is to give students the ability to do all kinds of things for themselves, by themselves." In the past teachers relied on passive instruction.

But its priority is still to ensure its 1,700 children, who study 50 to a class, grow up as good Communist citizens. Pupils strive to be admitted to the Young Pioneers, a training ground for the Communist party. Each week, they spend an hour on drill with the People's Liberation Army, visiting a factory or working with peasants. They also work on the school's farm.

This school, though, is not typical. It is one of just four key primary schools in Hainan, which has a population of 7.4 million. Ms Fu is proud of the many national awards her pupils have won. Nearly all would go to university, which in Hainan can cater for less than 2 per cent of the age group.

Teachers like Ms Fu are trying to ensure that the next generation will have their morality intact when they continue the experiments with market reforms. But even the education establishment has been tainted by Hainan's more notorious tourist attraction - the sex industry. Lan Tianyu, deputy party chief and former principal of Hainan Teachers' College, has been jailed for squandering institute funds on prostitutes in hotels and in a suite at the college.

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