2000 literacy goals 'far too ambitious'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 September, 1997, 12:00am

China's illiteracy problem will continue into the 21st century, according to a leading Hong Kong academic.

It would be impossible to eradicate adult illiteracy by 2000, Professor Chung Yue-ping, Dean of the Faculty of Education at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said yesterday in reaction to comments by Zhang Tianbao, Vice-Minister of the State Education Commission.

During a conference commemorating the 32nd International Literacy Day, Mr Zhang said the Government was determined to reduce the illiteracy rate to below two per cent over the next two years in order to basically eradicate adult illiteracy by 2000, China Daily reported.

Professor Chung said such claims could be applied only to those aged under 30, living in urban areas.

The situation there was less serious because of the universal education in place since the 1980s, he explained.

However, the problem remained critical in remote and rural areas, where schoolchildren might have to travel far to receive an education.

Another reason cited by Professor Chung was the unwillingness of teachers to travel to backward areas.

'Unless the state is prepared to improve teachers' pay, the reluctance to teach in those regions will stay,' he said.

The charity organisation Oxfam has expressed concern about the high rate of illiteracy in rural areas, especially among females.

Christine Chau, responsible for Oxfam's China Programme, suggested problems with girls missing school or even quitting their studies altogether were mainly due to hardship and sex discrimination.

Girls were expected to help feed the family first and were often responsible for growing crops, which meant plans for education took second place.

Ms Chau said Oxfam was urging people in rural areas to set up an education fund in a bid to encourage more girls to attend school.