As I have been reading documents about self-study practices, more often than not the subject comes up in the context of not being able to continue schooling after elementary, middle, or high school (that subject is a very succinct phrase in Chinese, 未升学的初中毕业生). This problem is very grave in the 1950s, often to the point where students in this situation in Shanghai feel they have no choice but to go to "Huangpu River University" which, according to later clarifications, is a fancy way of saying suicide. Especially among heads of households, a lack of higher education to them equals socioeconomic suicide. However, by the 1950s, the government had not yet been able to expand public education to the point of guaranteeing everyone a place in high school and college, and therefore had to find alternatives for these students to "keep them off the street" (see my earlier post).
One of these options is to join the work force. Obviously, one would not need a high level of education to work in a factory, and as the government worked towards higher and higher productivity, laborers were needed. This posed a problem, however. As the government consolidated factories and brought them under state control, there was a surplus of factory workers who found themselves unemployed. Ironically, a lot of these laborers ended up working as teachers, as Eddie U pointed out in his book, as of all the jobs in the PRC, teachers were in the highest demand. It would be interesting to find out if a lot of these 不能升学 students ended up being recycled right back into schools.
A very long article published in the People's Daily sought to solve this problem. They claimed that, indeed, factories in cities were being overrun with people, but the countryside could always use help 种地. The article explained that all of the attitudes towards a future in agriculture in the countryside were false: it was an honorable future with a lot of potential (as the main complaint was that such jobs had no future). In fact, those with some schooling from the cities could bring their knowledge to the countryside, thus making the entire country better.
Another option for these students is to self study, a subject I have brought up quite a bit in these last few posts. There are quite a few government documents and newspaper articles about this, and that a person can actually have a very bright future in the world of self study. Another article in the People's Daily pointed out that many experts in many fields never went to college and still made a difference to the field and to the country. For more on this topic, see the post below.
Along with self study, and self made experts, the government put together a series of supplemental learning options together, called either "work education" or "free time education." Another document includes nearly 200 pages of schedules for workers of different companies, demonstrating when they could partake in this freetime education and what kinds of classes they can take. These will usually be "skill" classes related to their work, but others also included culture classes. According to the People's Daily, culture classes (文化）are crucial because it contributes to the improvement of the socialist country and contributes to the betterment of production.
Even with all these options, this problem is a huge problem. It also raises the question of government responsibility. Of all the newspaper articles that address this subject (and there are quite a few) almost all of them begin with: "the education system after liberation has improved quite a bit, but there is still work to be done. In the meantime, what do we do with these students who cannot go on in school?" This statement implies that it is the government's job to figure out how to solve this problem. At the same time, other personal testimonies of people in this situation imply that it is the person's job to take it upon himself to better the country by learning and studying more. For example, an article in the People's Daily tells the story of an illiterate old man who learned to read all on his own by memorizing a few characters a day. This story, and the way he is portrayed as a hero, seems to exalt self motivation and learning during private time, with absolutely no governmental help. This is a tension that should be addressed in all studies about the communist era: the role of the government and the place of the government as opposed to the individual. I think we often believe that the communist government did everything it could to be in constant control of everything, that it found everything within its rights. However, after reading Eddie U's book, I think we need to accept that a lot of our assumptions about both Communist policies and their efficacy are quite false.
However, at this point, this is a difficult measure to make, not only because of a lack of data but also for a lack of measuring. I just think it is an important point to bring up among all these other points. I also think it will be interesting to explore what was going on in this arena before 1949. I found some self-study help books, which mention things like self study groups, often organized by book stores. But this seems to have less of a feel of learning basic skills to increase production, and more like the way we see book clubs in the states today, as embracing personal interests on ones' own. As I read more, I can find out the accuracy of this generalization.