From 1949 to 1981 the Chinese term for nonformal education was worker-peasant education. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched a campaign to improve worker-peasant literacy for the sake of economic reconstruction. Formal classroom instruction, distance instruction through correspondence, and radio instruction were utilized at factories, production brigades, and government agencies. By 1956, about 62,000,000 peasants had attended different types of literacy classes, representing about 30 percent of the age group of 14 years and older from the country's rural population. To prepare students for college and quickly produce a new kind of intellectual drawn directly from working-class ranks, the CCP also initiated the gongnong sucheng zhongxue (worker-peasant accelerated middle school) experiment in 1950. However, because these schools could not compete with formal educational institutions, and students did not produce good academic records, the experiment was declared a failure and abandoned in 1955.
The term "adult education" was introduced to China by a study team from the International Council for Adult Education. After the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government issued its first document regarding adult education on November 6, 1978, titled "Directives on the Issues of Literacy." It set up the standard to eradicate illiteracy among workers and peasants throughout the country; the ability of peasants to master 1,500 Chinese characters and of workers to master 2,000 characters; the capacity to read a newspaper; the ability to write simple letters and complete applications and appropriate forms; and the ability to complete a simple test measuring the above mentioned skills.
Adult education during the post-Mao period can be characterized by the restoration and re-establishment of institutions abolished during the Cultural Revolution. The 1980s witnessed a radical expansion of higher adult education institutions. Promotion and employment were more directly linked to one's academic rather than political background, increasing the demand for a college diploma. Because of the restrictive admissions policies of formal higher education institutions, the vast majority of high school graduates sought nonformal higher education training. By the end of 1998, approximately 661,705 schools of varied types of nonformal education produced 94,841,000 graduates.
Nonformal higher education is largely three years in length. It follows the curriculum for formal higher education in corresponding disciplines. Entrance to such programs usually requires passing the Adult Higher Education Entrance Examination, which is a national public examination. The State Education Commission now includes an adult educational department as do provincial, autonomous regional, municipal, and county-level education commissions, departments, and bureaus.
In addition to institutional nonformal higher education, open learning through the Self-Study Examination has attracted many candidates. Candidates may enroll in individual subjects and may accumulate their credentials over time. There is no entrance requirement for the self-study examination. The approach was first piloted in three major cities and one province in 1981 and was extended nationwide in 1983. This system was designed to expand the benefits of higher education with minimal investment. It appeals to many adults who do not want to sacrifice their jobs and family life to obtain a college diploma. With no limitation on age and formal education, it opens up higher education to an enormous number of Chinese citizens who would not have had a chance in regular colleges, and inspires great enthusiasm in higher learning.
The Self-Study Examination is offered twice each year. The National Examination Committee creates the tests, which are administered by local committees. Citizens can apply to take these examinations without having acquired previous course credit. Students who pass the examinations for four-year degree courses receive a bachelor's degree; those who pass three-year courses or single courses are issued certificates. At present, most of the provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions have set up their own local committees for self-study examinations, whose specializations include the liberal arts, science, engineering, agriculture, finance, economics, politics, and law. In the first examination in April 1995, enrollment reached 3.65 million. Of these candidates, 50 percent were students of adult education institutions in one form or another; the other 50 percent had undertaken private study.
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