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Some pupils still buy their own desks

By Wan Lixin   (Shanghai Daily)

09:37, September 08, 2011

China is a land of miracles, but it is also a land of contrasts.

A series of pictures taken on August 31 in Huanggang, Hubei Province, shows children, parents or grandparents plodding to school, carrying standard desks and chairs.

The caption explains these classroom essentials have been purchased by the parents, at the behest of the school authority.

I once attended a school housed in a dilapidated granary; my desk was a wood plank resting on clay.

I also attended a village school that required the students to bring along stools and makeshift desks. That was a while back.

But the winds of change, the decades of miraculous growth seem to have bypassed this school in Hubei.

What's the brand of the car assigned to local education chief?

Recently it was revealed that in Shanghai alone there are 132,000 individuals each with more than 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) in personal assets. Such figures as a rule do not include the net worth of our pampered civil servants.

For many years a number of factors have put village children to considerable disadvantage when compared with their urban cousins.

While every conceivable kind of blandishment is used to induce urban children to eat some food, some village pupils are battling malnutrition.

Xinhua news agency reported that since this September, children in Sanzhiyang Elementary School in Hechi, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, are entitled to a free lunch as a part of a national campaign to supply decent food to local children.

Prior to this, those students, mostly boarders, had to make do with two meals of steamed rice sprinkled with some soybeans every day. As a consequence, most of the children are suffering retarded growth.

Ostensibly these children are all in the nine-year "compulsory education" stage, when the state is supposed to provide free education.

But on average the education expenses allocated to a rural child are only around a third allocated to their urban counterpart, and are very unreliable.

Ideally, given these contrasts, college admission procedures should be adjusted in a way that compensates for rural disadvantages and favors rural students.

The opposite is true.

The proportions of university students of rustic origins have been declining steadily in recent years.

According to a report, this year the proportion of students of rural origins in the China Agricultural University in Beijing has fallen below 30 percent, a record low.

Traditionally in China, education has never been strictly restricted to the wealthy.

One of the eminent Confucian principles is youjiao wulei, or "in education there should be no class distinctions."

As a matter of fact, successful candidates of humble origins were generally sources of pride for their families and were generally respected for their hard work and excellence.

There had been powerful families in the past, but they were not perpetuated by any system of "aristocracy," as in the West.

The sad truth today is that education is perpetuating the great rural-urban divide.

The hordes of peasants fleeing their villages in search of their fortune in cities are contributing to the rural decay.

In recent years there have been many a scholarly panegyric on the "unique Chinese mode of growth."

If those academics who praise this "mode" adopted a more honest and down-to-earth attitude, they would not fail to identify two advantages peculiar to China: the availability of peasants-turned-cheap labor, and laxity of environmental protection standards.

The costs of the growth are enormous.

Left behind

Last Friday's Xinmin Evening News carries a picture featuring one small girl in Shaanxi Province posing with her grandparents in their village home, surrounded by more than a dozen empty stools, each representing a family member working outside the village as migrants to cities.

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