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Education official supports delay of arts and science streams
By Hou Lei (chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2009-03-04 17:43

A top education official Tuesday showed his support for the idea to delay the separation of sciences and arts education in high school. This was the first time Education Ministry officials spoke about the controversial issue.

Vice Minister of Education Zhang Xinsheng´╝îa member of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body, said students should be educated in both sciences and arts to have a better long-term educational development in the future.

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"It is better to delay the separation of sciences and arts education in high school. Personally, I think students should learn both sciences and arts subjects in senior high school," he said.

In early February, the Ministry of Education raised 20 important issues in various areas of China's education system to collect public opinions and suggestions. Among them, the issue of whether the separation of sciences and arts subjects should be canceled has become a hot topic for the public.

The government is expected to decide whether to end the practice of students deciding to go in either sciences or arts streams in Chinese high schools before the end of August this year.

According to data from the ministry, 54 percent of the people surveyed support the cancellation of separate streams in senior high school. The education ministry will establish a long-term plan for education reform and development after it finished collecting suggestions at the end of February.

Currently, senior high school students in China have to make a choice between sciences and arts in the first or second year of their studies. Generally speaking, more students tend to prefer sciences over arts.

In Beijing, applicants to science and engineering programs accounted for 67.6 percent of the 118,106 who took the 2008 national college entrance examination in the Chinese capital. The proportion is similar in other regions in China.

Many educational experts advocate the cancelling of separating the streams, as they believe the comprehensive development of individuals requires knowledge of both the sciences and arts.

Ji Baocheng, president of Renmin University, said that there is no clear boundary between sciences and arts subjects and if the separation into streams is practiced too early, students' potential will be restrained to a large extent.

Ji is also a deputy to the 11th National People's Congress, China's top legislative body.

However, another NPC deputy Zhou Hongyu, president of an educational research institution, firmly advocates the separation into arts and sciences streams.

Zhou believes that the separation has not resulted in the appearance of students who are ignorant in either sciences or arts. If the separation is cancelled at once and the curriculum isn't reformed and implemented in a timely manner, the quality of education in high schools will decline.

Many students also worry that canceling the separate streams may result in much more schoolwork than before.

"I am a high school student. Why do the education authorities make us learn more subjects while shouting the slogan of alleviating students' heavy burden? I don't think learning more subjects will be helpful for us to find a good job," a student from Sichuan said in the forum of China's portal website sina.com.

Some students also complain that it is unnecessary to learn subjects they may never use after graduation.

If the new selection system is implemented, it is not immediately known whether talented students might be deprived of the opportunity to be accepted into a good university. A female teacher surnamed Zhu from a key high school in Beijing said that students with similar academic performances in all subjects will benefit most if the separation is canceled.

On the other hand, students who have extraordinary talents in a certain subject may not get high marks in all subjects tested in the college entrance examination, as under the current recruitment system, the total score of all subjects is decisive.