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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 38 No. 22. September 11, 1975

Education.... the revolution continues — Pip Desmond looks at a typical Chinese University

Education.... the revolution continues

Pip Desmond looks at a typical Chinese University

Zhongshan University (Kwangchow) is set in six hundred acres of beautiful grounds. Today it caters for 2½ thousand full-time students over 40% of whom are women. All students live on the campus itself, sleeping and studying eight to a room. Their expenses, including medical services and pocket money are completely paid for by the state - high rents, bursaries and holiday jobs are no worry.

Since 1952 this university has specialized in the natural sciences and liberal arts. It teaches Chinese language and literature, history, philosophy, foreign languages, economics, maths and mechanics, physics, chemistry, biblogy, geography and metallurgy.

The overall number of enrolments is still small, largely because of disruption of the old education system during the Cultural Revolution. Long before then, Mao Tsetung had insisted that 'education must serve proletarian politics and be combined with productive labour.' But in practice, the opposite occurred - as in New Zealand, the university saw itself as an elite institution, put intellectual training first, stressed the complete authority of teachers and looked down on the working people. Students were chosen largely on the basis of marks so that most children of workers and peasants with less time to spend on study and less parental support than the children of the wealthy were excluded.

The revolution in education is still in its early stages, but already many radical changes have occurred. Now young people after graduating from middle school must have at least two years practical experience in a factory, commune or army unit before going to university. In this way, all students come directly from the workers, peasants and soldiers, and understand them.

The first of four enrolment steps for higher education is voluntary application. As well, potential students must be recommended by the people they have been working with, approved by the leadership of their work unit and finally accepted by the university In all these stages, political attitudes and reasons for wanting to go to university are as important as practical knowledge.

Teaching methods at Zhongshan University have also changed. Chaiman Mao saw the old exam system as a 'sudden attack' by teachers, in which students were treated as enemies. Among students there was the saying: 'in class we take notes, after class we check notes, before exams we memorize notes, after exams we forget notes.' Today, the emphasis is no longer on memorary work but on students.' ability to analyse and solve problems, and study on their own.

The assessment system appears to give a 100% pass rate. But, because the purpose of an individual's education is to help him 'better serve the people, there is no longer any need for personal rewards such as degrees. Furthermore by cutting out non-useful information from the syllabus and simplifying complicated materials, university education has been reduced from five years to three and a half for natural sciences and three for liberal arts.

A typical day in the life of a student starts at 6.00 am. with an hour's exercise before breakfast. Morning reading and three hours of lectures follow then lunch and a rest period in the early afternoon. From 2.30 pm till 4.00 pm is a time for personal study, after which everyone comes together to play sport - basketball, volleyball, badminton, table tennis and football. Every evening there is halt-an-hour's study of Marxism - Leninism, and further political study on Saturday afternoons.

But the role of the students is not confined to study. They are represented at all levels in the leading organs of the university and play a leading role in management and organisation of courses. A Chemistry student, for example, told us how last year he had felt what students were learning about the transformation of heat was not related to the practice in factories. So he put up a poster suggesting teachers and students actually go to a factory and investigate. As a result of this experience, teaching on the subject was modified.

It is this type of activity that prevents the university from becoming 'an ivory pagoda,' completely isolated from society. Today too, every department has direct links with the outside as part of the university's 'Open-door' policy. The Chemistry department, for example, is involved with a plastics factory in the city, and the biology department works closely with Tachi agricultural commune. As well, all students spend half their time going out to take part in productive labour and organise their own study in accordance with the typical products and tasks of society. In this way, teaching and research remain directly related to social needs and practices.

University biology students consult peasants in the field

University biology students consult peasants in the field

Because of the great demand for educated people in China, many short-term and part-time courses are being run to supplement regular studies - there were 150 last year in Zhongshan University, involving more than twenty thousand people. This, together with growing emphasis on workers' universities in factories and peasant universities on communes, is known as 'walking on two legs' - raising overall educational standards throughout the whole country and preventing a small educated elite from developing.

Zhongshan University has been transformed since 1966 by the educational revolution in China. This same revolution has produced radical changes throughout the entire education system. Further wholehearted struggle is essential however, if the system - far from giving material and social advantages to those with higher learning - is to continue to embody the fundamental Chinese principle of serving the people.