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The Eradication of Illiteracy in China Since the 1990s

The 4th Nationwide Census taken in 1990 showed that there were 182 million illiterates over 15 years old in China. The adult illiterates accounted for 22.23% of the total and the illiterates among middle-aged and young group, i.e. at the age of 15-45, were about 61,710,000, which constituted 10.34%of the total illiterates. In order to eradicate the illiteracy, the following measures have been taken:

  1. In January. 1990, the teleconference for illiteracy eradication was jointly held by 10 central governmental bodies. In this conference, the task of helping 4,000,000 illiterates become neo-literates annually in the 1990s was explicitly addressed and the implementation of this task would be carried out gradually in each province.
  2. The universalization of 9-year compulsory education and the eradication of the illiteracy among middle-aged and young group all over China by the end of 2000 were promulgated on the Fourteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1992.
  3. To eradicate illiteracy among middle-aged and young group and to reduce the illiteracy rate to less than 5% by the end of 20th were stipulated on The Outline for Educational Reform and Development in China, issued jointly by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council in 1993. In the same year, The Regulations for Illiteracy Eradication was revised, which then brought more responsibility to the governments at all levels and set up the new evaluation standards for the work of illiteracy eradication. In line with the new criteria, only when the non-illiteracy rate is over 95%, can the county, township or village be evaluated as successfully meeting the standards.
  4. The Suggestions for the Implementation of the Universalization of 9-Year Compulsory Education and The Eradication of Illiteracy Among Middle-Aged and Young Group In China by the End of the 1990s, issued by the then State Education Commission (now the Ministry of Education) in 1994, stipulated the three-step development strategy on the illiteracy eradication:
    The first step: the illiteracy rate among middle-aged and young group in the 10 provinces (or municipalities), whose economic and educational levels were the highest in China and whose population accounted for 33% of the whole country, should be reduced to less than 5% by the end of 1995.
    The second step: the illiteracy rate among middle-aged and young group of the 14 provinces (or autonomous regions), whose economic and educational development was at the intermediate level and whose population constituted 52% of the whole country, should be reduced to less than 5% by 1998.
    The third step: the illiteracy rate among middle-aged and young group of the 6 provinces (or autonomous regions), whose economy and education are less developed and whose population forms 15% of the whole country, should be reduced to less than 15% by 2000. Tibet will meet the third step standard after 2000.
  5. In 1994, the State Council approved the establishment of a Ministerial Coordinating Group for the Eradication of Illiteracy, consisting of 10 central ministries, commissions and organizations to jointly monitor and promote illiteracy eradication in China.
  6. The system for monitoring, evaluating, supervising and awarding the development of illiteracy eradication has been established. The top-down mechanism, in which the central government evaluates the work of provinces, and the provinces evaluate the work of the counties, and the counties evaluate the work of townships, has been put into practice. Based on the evaluation of local governments, from 1996 to 2000 more than 20 evaluations through random sampling by State Education Inspectors have been organized by the Ministry of Education to monitor the progresses in provinces (or autonomous regions and municipalities). This intervention has played an important role in fulfilling the periodic objective of illiteracy eradication among middle-aged and young group in due time.
    Since 1990, an annual meeting or workshop on illiteracy eradication has been held by the Ministry of Education so as to collect the experience, study the problems, produce solutions and allocate the assignments for the next phase.
    The encouragement mechanism was established jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance in 1996. The reviewing and appraising will be taken very two years and the prize is totally 5,000,000 Yuan (RMB) once a time. The Chinese Prize for Illiteracy Eradication was set up by the Ministry of Education. During 1996 to 2000, excellent teachers and administrators at grass-root level engaged in illiteracy eradication have been awarded such prize annually by the Ministry of Education. Totally more than 1,000 individuals and over 400 exemplary institutions have received this prize over the 5 years. The Model Women Prize for The Eradication of Illiteracy set up by the Ministry of Education and All-China Women's Federation jointly in 1990, provide awards to the excellent women groups and individual woman engaged in the eradication of illiteracy every two years.
  7. In order to raise fund for illiteracy eradication through various channels, the Ministry of Finance and the previous State Education Commission jointly issued a document, which required that a certain percentage of attached fees within the education budget for rural areas must be earmarked for illiteracy eradication. Local educational authorities and the townships will share the responsibility of fund raising. So far, 21 million RMB has been provided by the Ministry of Finance as the prize for the institutions and individuals with remarkable achievements in illiteracy eradication.
  8. Special institutions for eradicating illiteracy were established by educational authorities at national, provincial, prefectures and county levels. Full-time cadres or teachers for illiteracy eradication are employed by the townships. In Villages, the villagers' committees assume the responsibility of organizing and mobilizing the pubic to participate in illiteracy eradication while the teachers in primary and secondary schools will facilitate illiteracy eradication through teaching.
  9. The content of illiteracy eradication should be integrated with the illiterates' work and life. Learning groups of illiterates should be organized in various forms and the teaching and reading materials should be developed in various styles. From 1990 to 2001, 46.48 million illiterates had become literate. The illiteracy rate among middle-aged and young group had been reduced to less than 5%. The rate of the adult who can read has increased to 91.28% in 2001 from 77% in 1990.

The evaluation taken by the Ministry of Education through random sampling shows that 24 provinces (or autonomous regions and municipalities) have met the state standards of the eradication of illiteracy with the illiteracy rate less than 5%. These provinces (or autonomous regions and municipalities) include Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Jiangsu, Guangdong, Shandong, Zhejiang, Shan'xi, Hebei, Fujian, Hainan, Hu'nan, Anhui, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Xinjiang, and Chongqing.

The illiteracy rate among middle-aged and young group is less than 10-15% in the provinces (or autonomous regions and municipalities), such as Yu'nan, Guizhou, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai and Ningxia. 2700 counties have participated in the assessment organized by provincial governments and met the national standard.
The Problems:

  1. The absolute figure of the illiterates is still very high. At present, there are about 85,070,000 illiterates in China. Among them 20,000,000 are middle-aged and young people. Besides, more than 100,000,000 people become re-illiterates and new illiterates every year.
  2. It has been more difficult in illiteracy eradication. The existing illiterates are mainly located in the rural poor mountain areas and the areas where ethnic minorities inhabit. The over 200 counties, which have not met the standards, are all the state-level poverty-stricken counties in the western provinces with a slow development in illiteracy rate reduction. Among the illiterates, 70% are females and 70% are those under 50 years old. The location of these illiterates is scattered and floating therefore it takes a long time for them to cast off illiteracy. All of the above factors make it extremely difficult to organize and call up the work of eradicating illiteracy. The non-illiteracy rate in the six western provinces is about 85-90% at present. However, it will take 5-10 years to increase the figure to over 95%. For Tibet, it will take more than 20 years to fulfill the same objective.
  3. The understanding of and the attention attached to illiteracy eradication are not sufficient. Some of the provinces, which have met the state standards, have the mood of slacking up the efforts for illiteracy eradication and little has been done concerning the consolidation and promotion of the existing achievements, which will then lead to a serious problem of re-illiteracy. The development of illiteracy eradication in the above three regions (most developed, intermediate developed and less developed) is very uneven. Because of being afraid of difficulty, the sluggish attitude is increasing in some regions. The main reasons of these problems are the insufficient fund as well as insufficient attention paid by the local leaders to the eradication of illiteracy.

The objectives:
In accordance with The Regulations on The Eradication of Illiteracy, the western counties (or districts and cities) which have not met the standards for illiteracy eradication, especially those which have universalized primary education, should eradicate the illiterates among middle-aged and young group to increase the non-illiteracy rate to over 95% within the 5 years after the universaliztion of primary and junior secondary education. Provinces (or autonomous regions and municipalities) such as Inner Mongolia, Yu'nan, Guizhou, Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai should increase the non-illiteracy rate among middle-aged and young group to over 90%. In Tibet, an unremitting effort will be made to universalize 9-year compulsory education and minimize the generation of new illiterates to eradicate the illiteracy among middle-aged and young group proactively.
For counties (or districts and cities) which have met the standards, more efforts should be made with the township as the main responsible body to consolidate the existing achievements and try best to increase the non-illiteracy rate to over 95%. It is expected that the illiterates at the age of 15-24 with ability to learning will become literate. All the neo-literates among middle-aged and young group will receive further education continuously so that re-illiteracy will be under control to further increase the non-illiteracy rate among middle-aged young group.
For the economically developed regions and cities, In addition to consolidating existing achievements and increasing the non-illiteracy rate further, more efforts will be devoted to the complete eradication of illiterates of 15-24 who have the full ability of learning. Various interventions should be explored to seek the means and methods for functional illiteracy eradication and the further education after illiteracy eradication. As a result, all the neo-literates among young and middle-aged groups will have the access to further education after illiteracy eradication and illiteracy eradication will be integrated with the establishment of a learning society.
The main target group of illiteracy eradication is the middle-aged and young illiterates at the age of 15-24. The illiterates over 50 are also encouraged to take part in learning programmes for illiteracy alleviation.

The Measures:

  1. Build up an accurate concept of the number of illiterates and crate detailed files of them. Based on the statistics of the 5th National Census, every village or village-level institution must check the number of illiterates within their own jurisdiction to make the figure accurate. More supervision will be made for the new illiterates, re-illiterates and floating illiterates. The file development for illiteracy eradication is to be improved and perfected and a dynamic management mechanism will be established so as to provide a solid foundation for policy making and planning in the future.
  2. The consolidation and improvement of illiteracy eradication and the blocking-up of the emergence of new illiterates should be carried out extensively. The Compulsory Education Law of The People's Republic of China must be implemented fully. Some special policies and measures will be taken to prevent the students receiving compulsory education from dropping out to reduce as much as possible the generation of new illiterates. Under the overall management of the local governments, the primary and secondary schools should carry out supplement education for the illiterates under 15 years old so that they can receive the compulsory education required by the state or meet the standard of illiteracy alleviation. The illiterates among middle-aged and young group, especially those at the age of 15-24 with learning ability, must cast off illiteracy completely. The principle is that all of them must become literate without anyone left behind. All the neo-literates will receive further education after becoming literate. The consolidation and improvement of the achievements in illiteracy eradication must be combined with the integrity development of citizens, the dissemination of knowledge of the laws and science, and the development of socialist cultural and ethical progress. The primary and secondary schools as well as the adult schools in the rural areas should play an important role in delivering reading and other applicable skills training programs and special education programs to the neo-literates among middle-aged and young group after casting off illiteracy. Detailed measures will be taken to promote the eradication of illiteracy further and regular inspections should be carried out so as to consolidate and increase the achievements of the eradication of illiteracy.
  3. The illiteracy eradication for females and for those in poverty-stricken areas and ethnic minority groups should be improved. Some specific projects will be designed for the provinces (or the autonomous regions) which have not eradicated the illiteracy among middle-aged and young group. Among the ethnic minorities whose population is less than 100,000, special programmes will also be developed for these ethnic minorities. In the provinces (or autonomous regions and municipalities) which have almost eradicated the illiteracy among middle-aged and young group, programmes targeted at female illiterates will be designed and implemented.
  4. Reform on curriculum and teaching needs to be carried out to change the existing philosophy so that a learner-centered mechanism will be established to meet the basic needs of illiterates and improve the quality and efficiency of illiteracy eradication.

    The evaluation methods will be also reformed so that more attention will be paid to the process rather than results of illiteracy eradication. The old evaluation standards is based on the Chinese characters recognized by illiterates while in the new standards, more attention will be given to the real capacity of learners.

    Various ways and measures for functional illiteracy eradication will be explored so as to meet the needs of economic and social development and the whole public.

  5. The primary and secondary schools as well as the adult schools in the rural areas should be actively involved in the eradication of illiteracy. In the areas where illiteracy eradication still remains as a task, the primary, secondary and adult schools should regard it as an important task as well as responsibility to open illiteracy eradication programs and offer necessary education for illiterates and to facilitate the establishment and improvement of an implementation network for illiteracy eradication. The teachers' participation in this task should be included into their daily workload the in the case of extra work, subsidies should be provided to teachers. The teachers' participation in the eradication of illiteracy should be taken into account in their performance appraisal in terms of promotion, review for professional titles and the recommendation as excellence. The students' engagement in illiteracy eradication should be regarded as part of their social practices, which should be included into the teaching plan. Governments at all levels should promulgate relevant policies to support the eradication of illiteracy for the primary and secondary schools as well as the adult schools in the rural areas.
  6. Improving the leadership of governments at all levels for further eradicating illiteracy. The illiteracy eradication is one of the basic education policies stipulated by the Constitution and it is the basic duty and responsibility of the local governments at all levels. To increase the literacy rate among the adult should be regarded as one of the important indexes for the overall social and economic development and should be included in the social and economic development plan by local governments at all levels. Plans, policies and measures about how to eradicate illiteracy and consolidate the existing achievements should be developed and improved. The county, village and township are the main body of the eradication of illiteracy. The parallel contract responsibility system taken by the local governments and educational administrative departments at all levels should be practiced consistently. The eradication of illiteracy should be listed as one of the responsibilities of the main administrative superintendents of the local governments, enterprises and non-profitable institutions at both county and village levels, which will be taken into account for their performance assessment. The villagers' committees should play an important role in the eradication of illiteracy and the task should be distributed to individuals with full fulfillment.
  7. The leading and coordinating mechanism among the governments at all levels should be set up and improved to mobilize the participation of the whole society. The eradication of illiteracy is a social educational program with mass participation and will involve many government sectors and public organizations. Planned by the governments at all levels, the co-ordination bodies for illiteracy eradication established so that relevant parties will cooperate with each other and fulfill their respective responsibilities so as to promote the healthy and in-depth development of illiteracy eradication. Specific institutions and individuals should be appointed by the educational administrations at all levels to implement the eradication of illiteracy. In the areas where illiteracy eradication still remains as a serious task, full-time personnel should be appointed to carry out the education programs for the eradication of illiteracy. In addition, training programs for the teachers and management teams should be also strengthened to continuously improve the standards and quality of illiteracy eradication. The agriculture and forestry authorities should mobilize the participation of their cadres and professionals into illiteracy eradication and the post-education program after casting off illiteracy for the neo-literates. They are also expected to facilitate the training programs on applicable skills in agriculture and forestry by providing proper teaching materials and teachers. The mass media should widely disseminate the information, outcomes as well as experience of illiteracy eradication through newspaper, broadcasting and television. The authorities for cultural issues should make maximized advantage of the infrastructure at the grass-root level to provide places, books, periodicals and other reading materials for the eradication of illiteracy. For the Youth League and Women's Federations, they are expected to mobilize the active participation of middle-aged and young illiterates by making full use of the grass-root organizations. All the youth and women organizations in the areas where illiteracy exists, should be actively engaged in training programs or classes as well as other related activities for illiteracy alleviation. The associations for science and technology should organize the affiliated institutes and organizations to carry out various applicable skills training programs for the local illiterates according to their specific needs, and to offer supplement materials for the neo-literacy to disseminate scientific knowledge. The liberation army and the armed police should also actively participate in illiteracy eradication of the areas where they stay and include this intervention into the army-civilian cooperation so as to promote local civilization.
  8. Funding for the eradication of illiteracy should be raised from various channels. The central government will continue to provide earmarked fund for the illiteracy eradication award to provide prizes in line with the local progresses. The local government at all levels should set up specialized budget for eradicating illiteracy according to their own financial environments to establish illiteracy eradication programs and provide prizes. The earmarked funding for teacher training under the framework of ‘National Scheme on Compulsory Education in Poor Areas' should also act as a resource for training the teachers involved in illiteracy eradication. At the same time, all the channels for fund raising for illiteracy eradication which are promulgated by The Regulations on the Eradication of Illiteracy should be materialized.

    (1) The villagers' committees should seek fund by themselves under the overall organization of the local government at county level or the neighborhood administration offices.
    (2) The employee's educational budget from the enterprises and non-profitable institutions can also be used for illiteracy eradication.
    (3) Some percentage of the educational surcharge from the areas where reform of rural taxes and administrative charges has not been implemented should be used as the special fund for the eradication of illiteracy in the rural areas.
    (4) The payment for the teachers and the full time personnel engaged in eradicating illiteracy, the expense for the compilation of reading and teaching materials, for teaching and research and for the experience collection as well as excellence awards should be included in the educational budget of local governments.
    (5) All social organizations and individuals are encouraged to donate for illiteracy eradication.
  9. The education and research institutions at all levels should attach importance to the research of theories and practices for illiteracy eradication. Emphasis should be placed to the effective means to mobilize wide participation under the new context, the establishment of a learner-centered education mechanism, the pattern for compiling teaching materials, and the most efficient methods for illiteracy eradication among females, ethnic minorities and poor population. All the interventions in illiteracy eradication should be guided by rational theories to improve the pertinence and practicability the eradication of illiteracy.
  10. The supervision and evaluation mechanism should be practices continuously. The educational supervision bodies at all levels should enhance the supervision and evaluation of illiteracy eradication. The principle that unless the popularization of primary education has been realized, the eradication of illiteracy won't be evaluated and unless the eradication of illiteracy among middle-aged and young group has been realized, the popularization of 9-year compulsory education won't be evaluated will be continued. The countercheck mechanism should be set up in all regions. Base on the statistics of the 5th Nationwide Census, counterchecks should be carried out for the counties (or districts and cities) which have met the state standards yet. If decline is witnessed, feasible measures must be taken and improvement must be made within 2 years. Otherwise, the title of honor as The Completion of The Eradication of Illiteracy Among Middle-aged and Young Group will be taken back by provincial governments. The State Education Inspector Committee will enhance the supervision on process. For the provincial or autonomous regional governments which have claimed the completion of tasks in illiteracy eradication, recognition will be offered by State Education Inspector Committee after sampling scrutiny.
  11. The report and circulation mechanism concerning the eradication of illiteracy should be built up. At the beginning of each year, an annual plan and other related issues should be submitted to the Ministry of Education and the progress must be reported on time. The Ministry of Education should be responsible for irregular surveys and inspections and the circulation of local progresses.
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