Unlike Shipai Town, Ningshan County in Ankang City of Shaanxi Province is a poverty-stricken county. But in 2007, the county’s authorities came up with their own way to benefit local students. Nowadays, they offer boarder students free meals, a living subsidy and free vocational training on top of 12 years of free education. Since 2009, the three years of senior middle school, encompassing vocational education, have been free for the whole county. Since the autumn of 2011, kindergartens have also been free of charge.
Ningshan had a population of 74,000 and a gross income per capita of RMB 3,812 in 2010. Its fiscal income was RMB 30.75 million. Local government spent 40 percent of this – RMB 12 million – on education, way above the national average of 12.5 percent. The subsidy for senior middle school students alone, RMB 2,000, is almost half of a rural household’s average annual income. Big outlays on education have meant the county government has had to limit its other expenses. For example, the county government’s office building is a renovated student dormitory building from the 1990s.
According to statistics, 12 years of free education is a growing trend around China. Regions such as Inner Mongolia, Mawei District of Fuzhou City in Fujian Province, Shuangliu County of Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, Dexing City of Jiangxi Province, Luntai County of Xinjiang and Guangdong Province’s Zengcheng City are leading the way.
To ensure the implementation of compulsory education, a series of key education projects have been carried out, with billions of RMB forked out in the process. Wang Dinghua, deputy director of the Basic Education Department at the Ministry of Education, remarked that the government spent RMB 160 billion on tuition fee exemptions and free textbooks for compulsory education from 2006 to 2010.
As the Ministry of Education stated in June 2009, the nine-year compulsory education model has been effectively promoted, and now the 12-year model is being encouraged in counties with the budget capacity to offer subsidies.
Twelve-year free education has not been instituted as a nationwide program in China. But since the 2010 autumn semester the central and local governments have co-sponsored a grants program to aid senior middle school students from poorer families. It is estimated 20 percent of students from such families have already benefited from the program.
A Fair Chance for All
Several factors count against China in the realm of education – its population is enormous and dispersed; its educational foundation is far from solid, and it has embarked on reform relatively late. Up until recently, scarce educational resources were not distributed evenly to all areas, and schools with modern equipment, standout teachers and beautiful campuses were concentrated in big cities and developed areas along the coast.
Zhang Li, director of the National Center for Education Development Research under the Ministry of Education, remarked that the inequalities in educational opportunities are largely to the detriment of rural areas. A free market for education resources will not rectify these imbalances; government should assist the poor by offering them more and better opportunities in education.
The Hope Project is symbolic of efforts to offer an affordable quality education to all children. The project became part of the public conscience in 1991, when a newspaper photograph of seven-year-old Su Mingjuan and her piercing gaze touched readers throughout the country. She became the symbol of the project, and was assisted right through to entering university in 2003.
In the Finance Department of Anhui University, Su supported herself by working part time until she finished her degree. She secured a white-collar job at the Anhui Provincial Branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, shortly after which she began financially assisting two disadvantaged students on her own.
“Meeting with them every year and talking with them regularly is more important than giving them money. They deserve our attention. We need to foster students’ interests, passions and potential, and help them plan for the future,” Su said.
Every student benefits from compulsory education in China. But to narrow the gap between different regions, more welfare initiatives should be carried out in the country’s poorer areas. If we set a good example for these children and collectively provide them with financial aid, they are more likely to contribute positively to society in the future.
Chinese society has been working hard to rid its education system of inequality. In the not-too-distant future, China will be proud to say that a child born in Shaanxi, Sichuan or Guizhou has just as much chance of succeeding in school as a child born in Shanghai or Beijing.
Source from China Today
Editor: Shi Liwei