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Home >> China
UPDATED: 15:46, February 25, 2006
Draft amendment to compulsory education law under 1st review of China's legislature
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The draft amendment to China's Law on Compulsory Education, aiming to ensure a stable investment system for rural education, was tabled to lawmakers on Saturday for the first review at the beginning of a four-day legislative session.

The draft amendment to guarantee a nine-year free education for rural poor children will be deliberated for three rounds before being enacted.

"Education resources are not distributed fairly. Disparity, existing among schools and regions, and between cities and the countryside, is growing every day," said Education Minister Zhou Ji.

The education system, based on the 20-year-old compulsory education law, must be improved as the disparity of education resources has aroused great concern and "strong" complaints from the general public, Zhou said.

According to sources close to the legislative session, the draft amendment placed emphasis on specifying the funding responsibility of central and local governments for rural schools, which is expected to lift the educational burden of poverty-stricken rural families and to give rural kids equal opportunities as their peers in cities.

China enacted the law on compulsory education in 1986, freeing students from tuition fees in six-year primary school and three-year middle school studies.

But families in some rural areas were burdened with heavy "educational expenses," including the costs of textbooks, winter heat, and transportation, as local governments could not set aside enough budget for education.

Urban families and governments of rich regions, on the other hand, have never been troubled with this headache.

In 1998, government budget for compulsory education in Shanghai was 10 times that in the central province of Henan. The figure was 50 times higher in 2005, comparing the budget in Shanghai and that in the countryside of Henan.

The growing wealth gap has started to undermine the people's equal rights to education, sociologists say.

When children in such metropolis as Beijing and Shanghai study in schools equipped with planetarium and swimming pools, children in poor countryside, especially in western China, have to spend their school age in make-shift schools, besieged with worry they might be forced to drop out for high costs of schooling.

According to statistics of the Ministry of Education, drop-out rate among students under compulsory education in big and middle-sized cities were almost zero in 2004, but it was 2.45 percent for rural primary school students and 3.9 percent for rural junior high school students, or even as high as 5 percent in rural areas in seven provinces in central and west China.

Zhang Jianhua, a State Council (or the cabinet) official in charge of education, science and culture, said the draft amendment asks the provincial governments, rather than county-level governments as stipulated in the to-be-revised law, to take the responsibility to fund compulsory education in their own provinces.

The draft also demands expenses for this purpose should be listed in the budget of the provincial governments, said Zhang, director of the Education, Science and Cultural Department of the Legislative Affairs Office, the State Council.

"And the governments are required to give priority to rural schools when they draw up the budget for compulsory education," Zhang said, citing the provisions of the draft amendment, which also demand the central government to cover the cost of textbooks for rural compulsory education in the central and western regions.

To reinforce the teaching staff of rural schools, the draft amendment requires teachers in urban public schools who are to receive the senior professional title or are freshly employed teachers to go to underdeveloped rural areas to teach for a certain time.

The Chinese government has paying great heeds to improve rural education, with a recent promise to allocate 218 billion yuan (26.9 billion U.S. dollars) in the next five years to boost compulsory education in the countryside.

Rural students are expected to be exempted from all tuition fees and other educational expenses, including the costs of textbooks, winter heat, and transportation, according to the government.

Education experts who are worried about the negative impact of the widening wealth gap on education, urged equal opportunities for all children to receive education in order to root out hidden danger of social instability.

Source: Xinhua

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