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Illiteracy Jumps in China, Despite 50-Year Campaign to Eradicate It

Shi Yong Xun, left, is one of several young teachers in Liupu, China, who give up evenings to tutor older women.
Shi Yong Xun, left, is one of several young teachers in Liupu, China, who give up evenings to tutor older women. (Photos By Maureen Fan -- The Washington Post)

The women of Liupu use a simple, practical textbook published by the Beijing Cultural Development Center for Rural Women, which began testing it in parts of China a few years ago. But often, adults learning how to read are taught words that don't closely relate to their lives, according to Guo, the national education researcher. By June, Guo said, officials will urge that the approach used in Liupu be adopted countrywide.

Researchers say that illiteracy is not confined to older generations, an assertion borne out in Liupu.

Zhao Xianghua, 15, said half of her friends can't read. She boards during the week at a county school that charges $50 a year in tuition, but she has friends who don't have the same luxury.

"Several are already out working," she said, "and when they come back to visit and we hang out, I can feel the distance between us."

The main test of literacy in China will be officials' ability to follow up with students and cement any gains, said Hu, the professor, who complained that adults are often taught only how to pass a test.

"It's like planting trees to make a forest," Hu said. "Many people plant trees, but few take care of them, and finally the trees die before becoming a forest."

Researcher Li Jie contributed to this report.


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