After the first three years at middle, school, students can progress into vocational colleges where technical, teacher-training and agricultural courses are offered. Compared with a general education, thistype of practical further education is gaining in importance. In 1990, nearly half of all upper middle school students were attending technical and vocational colleges. The final examination corresponds with A-levels and is an essential element in the demanding university entrance requirements.
University The pinnacle of educational achievement is a place at university and such an opportunity is only available to a very small percentage of Chinese young people. In 1991, 2,044,000 students were attending university, roughly 2% of the population. From 10,000 students in any one academic year only eighteen will qualify for a place at university. As well as the universities, which are predominantly concerned with the humanities and science, there are many polytechnics, which offer courses in architecture and engineering. The period of study varies according to the subject and there are supplementary courses for the acquisition of certain specialist and professional skills. Gifted students or students from poor backgrounds receive assistance. Upon completion of their further education, the authorities decide where they will be employed after graduation.
Adult education As the various educational establishments are unable to guarantee training to all Chinese, there has been increasing emphasis on adult education. The educational opportunities available include free-time, part-time and full-time courses in various types of college. The best known free-time colleges are in Beijing and Shanghai. In addition, radio and television provide vocational courses. Students are released from their work to study and fees are met by employers.
Illiteracy Despite the efforts of the Chinese government to educate the masses, around 27% of the population, or 313 million people, are said to be illiterate. When the Chinese Republic was founded in 1949, the figure was 90% but it had been reduced to 38% by 1964.
There are a number of causes for illiteracy and the very poor record of school attendance in the early years. Poverty among the rural population is certainly a factor as for many, the payment of school fees represents a major problem. Burgeoning private enterprise discriminates against families with several children. The sanctions imposed by the state on couples who ignore family planning guidelines can cause hardship as does the absence of social security and pensions. Primary and middle schools in particular suffer from a shortage of teachers, who complain of poor pay and working conditions (inadequate teaching areas, few resources and large classes).