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School days in China look tougher as country announces education reforms

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The Chinese Communist Party revealed plans yesterday to overhaul China's educational system. The plans include making education through the Chinese equivalent of junior high school compulsory, shifting millions of students into vocational training programs, loosening government controls over schools and universities, and liberalizing university-admission policies.

These and other changes are the first major reforms in education since 1977, when Chinese officials sought to undo some of the damage suffered during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Officials reintroduced competitive examinations for admission to schools and universities, and schools again stressed academic subjects and technical skills rather than political indoctrination.

``The scope of this educational-system reform is very wide,'' said Yu Fu Zeng, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, at a press conference.

Mr. Yu said the purpose of the reforms is to provide a better-educated Chinese labor force that will meet the requirements of the government's economic development programs.

Yu cited a number of defects in China's present educational system. These include rigid government control over schools and universities, general problems with the quality and quantity of primary and secondary schooling, a shortage of teachers and insufficient teacher training, inadequate development of technical and vocational training, and serious problems with school curriculum and discipline.

The party's educational reforms aim to overcome these shortcomings by providing guidelines for the ministry to implement institutional and administrative changes in the months and years ahead.

Deng Xiaoping, China's senior leader, has accused the now-jailed ``gang of four'' of sabotaging education during the Cultural Revolution. He has called on his followers to harness education to the goals of his modernization program, which he says will allow China to catch up with the West by the middle of the next century.

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