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Work-Study Schools

A Significant Development in China’s Educational Revolution

by Liang Nien

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #2, Jan. 7, 1966, pp. 9-12.]

The introduction of the work-study educational system in China is fully in keeping with the wishes of the broad masses of the people and with the needs for the development of industrial and agricultural production. It will exercise a far-reaching influence on the training of a new generation of revolutionaries who are both “red and expert” and can work with both hand and brain. It is a fundamental measure for the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and for the prevention of the restoration of capitalism.

THE establishment of a new system of work-study education which combines classroom study with work in the factories and on the farms is a development of far-reaching importance in China’s cultural revolution.

Though experiments are still being made in order to best solve the common and specific problems of its many different kinds of schools, the new system has already brought universal education nearer and is showing its value in bringing up a new generation of revolutionaries who are accustomed to both mental and physical labour and who are both “red and expert,” i.e., who are both politically conscious and professionally competent.

Suited to Objective Needs

Work-study schools were first tried out in 1958 in accordance with the principle that education should serve proletarian politics and be combined with productive labour. In 1964, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party directed that, side by side with the existing full-time schools, part-work and part-study education should be gradually introduced throughout the country. Since then, there has been a vigorous development in this system of schooling, both in the urban and rural areas. In the cities, work-study specialized middle schools and work-study schools equivalent to junior middle schooling have been established; in the countryside, there are work-study primary schools, work-study agricultural middle schools, and work-study technical middle schools. The new system is also being tried out in higher education. It can be expected that on the basis of the experience now being gained, it will make still greater advances in the future.

Socialist China is a vast country with a huge population, and in the past economic and cultural development was so uneven that today levels still differ greatly from one place to another. Under these circumstances, it is just not realistic to expect to make education universal in China through full-time schooling only. This poses the task of setting up schools to suit all conditions in order to meet the needs of the broad masses, and of the workers and peasants in particular. This is where the work-study educational system comes in.

Schools of Many Kinds

In the countryside today, besides full-time primary schools, there are work-study primary schools of many kinds. These schools operate on flexible lines, so that youngsters who have work to do in the family or field can attend classes. There are half-day schools, and schools with special morning, noon or evening classes. If these are not practical, classes without fixed hours are held, and school begins when the students come. Mobile schools make their rounds to bring lessons to children who live in scattered mountain villages and on the grasslands.

In a word, the schools are set up for the convenience and benefit of pupils, especially those from working families. Great care is taken to keep all expenses down to a minimum and to ensure that what is taught is of practical use.

As a result, enrolment of children from former poor and lower-middle peasant families has risen sharply. There are now 17 million children studying in work-study primary schools, 80 per cent above the 1964 enrolment in these schools. The rapid development of the new schools is also stimulating reforms in the full-time rural schools. Many of the latter have changed from the usual two terms each of five months a year to three shorter terms and now close during the busy periods of harvesting and sowing. Some have set up additional classes for pupils who cannot attend full time. All this has helped to bring about an increase of 14 per cent in total primary school enrolment compared with 1964. This is a big step forward in making primary education universal.

The spread of secondary education has been likewise improved. In the cities primary education is already universal and the majority of primary school graduates can go on to full-time junior middle school. For those who cannot, work-study schools and classes in a variety of forms, as well as other forms of schooling such as the Television School in Taiyuan, Shansi Province, and the Home for Youngsters in Mutankiang, Heilungkiang Province, are being set up by factories and mines, government organizations and enterprises, and neighbourhood organizations. In the villages, work-study agricultural middle schools are being developed. State farms specializing in agriculture, forestry or animal husbandry have set up a number of technical middle schools based on the new system, and in big cities like Shanghai, Peking and Tientsin, enterprises and organizations are running similar schools of their own. Enrolment in these work-study middle schools in 1965 was 87 per cent more than in 1964.

The new system has also been extended to higher education. Work-study institutes, technological universities and teachers’ training colleges have been set up by a number of big state farms and factories. Many full-time higher educational institutions are actively experimenting with the new system. More than half of the agricultural institutes of higher learning have introduced the work-study system and 70 per cent of the agro-technical middle schools are also trying it out. Under an overall plan, conditions are being created for the existing full-time specialized middle schools to be transformed into work-study schools step by step.

From the above, it is clear that the new system is not only contributing greatly to the universalization of primary education in China. It has also opened up ways for the gradual universalization of secondary and even higher education in the future. This is in marked contrast to the position in capitalist countries. In order to safeguard the interests of the bourgeoisie and to maintain the differences between mental and manual labour, the bourgeois educational system can only universalize primary or general secondary education at the most. It definitely cannot, nor is it willing to universalize higher and specialized secondary education. The socialist countries, in order to render immediate service to the socialist revolution and socialist construction and to diminish gradually the differences between mental and manual labour, besides universalizing primary and general secondary education step by step, must go further and universalize higher and specialized secondary education also.

Developing a Technical Force

The gradual modernization and development of industrial and agricultural production has created a pressing need for a huge technical force both in the cities and the countryside. This is where the new schools fulfil an increasingly important function. Work-study schools set up by factories can produce in a relatively short period large numbers of workers of a new type—workers who are good with their hands and have specialized skills and an adequate level of general education. The Tientsin Electronic Instruments Plant solved its shortage of skilled workers and cadres by setting up a technical middle school on a work-study basis. The plant now has 405 graduates from this school in its workshops and other departments and they form the nucleus of its technical and administrative force.

Since 1958, Tientsin has set up a number of work-study technical middle schools on a trial basis. In the last two years this city has made considerable advances in work-study education. Today there are altogether 119 work-study schools and classes, mostly middle schools and some institutions of higher learning, with a total enrolment of over 24,000 students. Investigations made by the city among some 2,000 of its graduates from work-study technical middle schools showed that the majority of them are now factory workers. Some have become technicians or administrative cadres. Collectively these people are an important technical force in Tientsin’s factories.

In the countryside, the situation is the same. Many graduates from work-study agricultural middle schools have become leaders,of production teams, book-keepers, storemen, tractor drivers, irrigation and drainage equipment operators, technicians, health workers, electricians, veterinarians and livestock breeders. Excellent results have also been obtained from the special short courses run by these schools to meet the need for agro-technicians, veterinarians, accountants and other technical personnel. An equally important role is played by the work-study technical middle schools in supplying skilled personnel needed by state farms specializing in agriculture, forestry or livestock breeding, fishing enterprises, hydroelectric and farm machinery stations and other production units.

The graduates are well equipped for the jobs that lie ahead of them as they have already done practical work. While studying, they are an effective productive force, too. Students of some agricultural middle schools, for example, have turned low-yielding land into high-yielding land by scientific farming. Some have raised improved strains of seeds. Some have assisted production teams in disease and pest control and prevention, and in this way they have helped to ensure high yields over large areas of farmland.

In cities some work-study schools divide their day equally into two, others study and work on alternate days or weeks. After a very short time their students have shown that they are at home in the workshops, able both to operate machines and to solve technical problems. They are already worker-technicians in the making.

Stress on Industry and Thrift

These new schools implement in an improved way the established policy of building up the country through industry and thrift. Through work, the students not only gain knowledge but also create wealth to cover part or the whole of their expenses and those of the school. This of course lightens greatly the burden on the state and parents and makes it much easier to set up large numbers of schools in all parts of the country.

Most of the work-study schools in the countryside in fact grew out of practically nothing. They were set up on the principle of making the fullest use of what is available on the spot and keeping expenses and equipment down to the barest minimum. Old buildings are repaired and new ones put up by the teachers and students who use local materials. Equipment and furniture, too, are usually made in the same way.

The Taching Oilfield provides an outstanding example of industry and thrift in education. In the spirit of hard work and self-reliance, men and women of Taching who succeeded in building a huge oilfield in three years, have in the last six years set up 130 schools and classes in diverse forms. These include full-time schools and different kinds of work-study schools and short-term courses. In Taching today, primary education is already universal; junior middle school education is practically universal. A basic educational network covering primary, secondary and higher education has been set up throughout the oilfield. In establishing these schools, the Taching people met with all sorts of difficulties. They were in want of almost everything at the start—buildings, equipment, teachers, and teaching experience. ... They solved their accommodation problem by making use of dining-rooms, store-rooms, and stables, and by putting up simple, crude buildings themselves. They piled up sun-dried bricks to make tables, and made wooden benches out of waste material from the construction sites. They sought their teachers from among cadres, workers and housewives, bearing in mind an old Chinese saying “the capable ones are the teachers.” They gained experience through “learning to do by doing” and “making improvements as you go along.” It is with such a revolutionary spirit and such revolutionary measures that the Taching people, guided by Mao Tse-tung’s thinking, have managed to turn the many unfavourable conditions for their life and work to good account—making every difficulty contribute to the education and steeling of the younger generation.

Working People of a New Type

Most important of all, the students in these schools are closely linked to production, to reality and to the working people. They are at the same time students and farmers or students and workers. Their theoretical studies and experiments tie in closely with production. What they study in books is tested and assimilated through practice. This stimulates and holds the students’ interest and helps them to learn and master what is taught. The teachers, too, are out in the fields or factories when they are not teaching and this links their classroom work more closely with life. Facts prove that there is no lowering of standards. As schools of this type can better implement the policy of putting education at the service of proletarian politics and linking it with productive labour, they are better capable of bringing up working people of a new type, people with an all-round development, moral, intellectual and physical.

Although it is not long since these schools first came into being, they have proved their worth and their graduates are warmly welcomed by rural people’s communes and industrial enterprises alike. There is a consensus of opinion that youth thus educated are in general conscientious in work, progressive in outlook, and technically competent. Because of this they have played a praiseworthy role in the three great revolutionary movements—the class struggle, the struggle for production, and scientific experiment. Since 1958, more than 4,000 people have graduated from work-study schools of higher learning, some 10,000 from work-study agro-technical middle schools. These young people, who have received training in both theory and practice, are capable of doing both mental and manual labour. They make themselves very useful wherever they may be, are quite at home with the masses, and are not pretentious or snobbish. They are socialist-minded, cultured working people of a new type.

The most recent development in the work-study schools is the emphasis placed on graduates going back to their home communes. Some agricultural institutes, agro-technical middle schools, and specialized middle schools training public health workers last summer recruited new students directly from rural communes with the understanding that they would return home after graduation. Urban work-study schools have also undertaken to train personnel for the rural areas from among young people in the cities.

The introduction of the work-study educational system is fully in keeping with the wishes of the broad masses of the people and with the needs for the development of industrial and agricultural production. It embodies on the educational front the general line of getting greater, faster, better and more economical results in building socialism. In the long-term view, this will create the conditions for the gradual diminution of the differences between mental and manual labour; and it is one of the basic measures for the training of a new generation of proletarian revolutionaries and for guarding against any restoration of capitalism in our country.

The work-study system of schooling at the present time is still in the initial stages and we lack experience with it. There will inevitably be difficulties on our way ahead. But introduction of the system is definitely not a measure of expediency. It will remain and advance in step with the forward movement of our socialist revolution. Travelling along this road, we shall gradually build up a complete educational system of our own, which brings up people who can work with both hand and brain.

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