Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 17. July 18th, 1973
Children Serve The People
Children Serve The People
We have much to learn from preschool education in China today. The most striking aspect of visiting a kindergarten in Shanghai, was the high degree of political awareness and spontaneous analysis in all the activities and skills that the children are learning.
On entering the classroom we were invited to listen to some singing by five and six year olds. The confidence and enthusiams with which they related the importance of the oppressed peoples of the world uniting to fight U.S. imperialism, reflected their convictions and understanding about the political system. It ended with their arms raised to the sky and defiantly yelling "united we will win the struggle. We will also liberate Taiwan!"
Through self-expression in cultural activities such as these, the children are learning and identifying with the revolutionary principles on which their society is based. This is hardly the depth of political awareness developed through the activities of New Zealand kindergartens, in which the principles underlying the basis of society are learned only indirectly.
Political Basis of Education
The fundamental difference between New Zealand and China in this field (as in all others) is that in China the political basis of education is made explicit. In New Zealand it is subtely disguised as the development of the individual in order to take part in "social democracy".
The skills that are learned at pre-school level to prepare children for higher levels of education, are superficially similar in both countries, but the motivations for teaching differ enormously. This was obvious from watching the children in different classrooms and listening to their singing, dancing and play acting. A small group in costumes acted out the story of a newcomer to the kindergarten who decided that it was too hot to take part in health exercises that were part of the curriculum for all children. The rest of his new comrades were very surprised at this attitude and wished to help him understand the reason for taking part. They told him that they were doing exercises to become fit and healthy and better able to do their job in the community — serving the people. The boy began to realise this and with mutual help from his comrades he learned and decided to join in.
In this way the children become aware of the values of their revolutionary society — that their education is to enable them to carry out Mao Tsetung's thoughts and serve the people. In order to do this well, pupils are also taught the principles of selflessness and self-reliance.
Learning from Experience
The notion of learning from experience is common to both countries and the types of activities carried out are similar. What differs is the degree to which this principle is applied in practice and the different attitudes they are designed to promote. At Shanghai's Dong Fang Hong (The East is Red) Kindergarten I noticed children were cutting out intricate patterns on folded paper, painting, playing with toys and reading from picture books. Superficially the same — but for the Chinese the learning of these skills has a political implication which is made explicit — to enable children to develop skills and knowledge to serve the people in their community in the best way possible.
Although this could be said about the aims of New Zealand pre-school education the — nature and extent of the application of this theory determines the attitudes of children and their future relationship in society. It is here that the difference is so marked and important.
Manual labour is essential to the functioning of society and so becomes a part of pre-school education. One period a day the children of the kindergarten spend their time doing simple manual work. This is not a form of child-labour but an exercise in learning an important political concept — the recognition of manual work in order for society to survive. As the teacher said "it is to instil into the children a love of the working class and an understanding that they must learn from the workers."
That attitude which develops in the pupils is that all types of work which serve the people are of equal importance. In order that the children should learn this concept from practical experience, they manage their own garden to provide vegetables to eat, and do the manual labour themselves. At the same time learning to be useful members of the community and absorbing another major concept of revolutionary society — that of self-reliance.
No Competition to Succeed
Among these children there is not the competition to succeed in order to gain favour, or the struggle to become educated to get a "good" job, which in New Zealand and other capitalist coutries, does not include manual work. This ideological education promotes the attribute of despising manual work, prevalent among the middle and upper class whom the kindegartens primarily serve. There is a distinction between jobs of a high class and much sought after, and jobs of a low class. This depicts the basis of the structure of the capitalist system — a class structure.
In China, serving the people is the prime motivation for children's learning and they learn well for this reason. Along with the political motivation there consciously develops attitudes of selflessness and a spirit of co-operation. It is here in China we see the application of Marxism—Leninism— Mao Tsetung thought in practice and succeeding to reconstructing China along socialist principles.
In New Zealand the prime motivation for children's learning, although they do not realise it, is to become successful members of the capitalist systems. To succeed in this system children have to compete and adopt selfish attitudes. In the competitive struggle for high class jobs the middle and upper class always win because they are better equipped by the education system to do this. The education system at all levels, beginning with preschool serves to perpetuate the class structure of capitalism and benefit the successful middle and upper class who in return oppress those of the working class in all fields of life. China's political basis for education of children in the values of socialist society is evident in practice in their day to day life. It is living proof that socialist society is successful and leads to a better life for all people, collectively.