Opinion / From the Readers

Rural kids need good education

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-04 08:10

The government has allocated huge funds to bridge the education gap between urban and rural areas, and the education system in the countryside has indeed improved over the past few years. But the government needs to do more to make quality education easily accessible to all rural children.

In February, Andreas Schleicher, OECD special adviser for education, visited Qiao Tou Lian He Elementary School at Tengchong county, Yunnan province, and was impressed by the improvements in basic education in rural areas. In an essay, written for BBC Online, he has said: "In this poor neighborhood of simple houses and farmlands, it is the school rather than the shopping center that has the cleanest and most impressive building. In terms of standards, the mathematics classes seem to be at least at the same level you would see in a European classroom."

The foreigner was surprised to see a well-developed basic education system in such an impoverished place. But even as a Chinese journalist I was surprised with what I saw in a Tibetan-inhabited area of Qinghai province. In Gonghe county's First Ethnic Minority Elementary School, I found children attending classes in neatly refurbished classrooms, living in tidy and spacious dormitories, using state of the art computers and eating free and nutritious food. The school has even hired nursery maids to take care of younger students. The reason was well explained by the local education bureau chief: "Without good education, these kids will not have a good future, and that is why 25 percent of the local fiscal revenue is channeled to improve basic education."

These two examples show that China's fiscal expenditure on basic education in rural areas has increased. A China Daily Online report says that 4.2 percent of China's GDP was allocated to the education sector in 2012 and 30 percent of that amount was spent on developing basic education in rural areas of poor provinces in central and western parts of the country. The report also says that since 2010 China has spent 39.9 billion yuan ($6.5 billion) to renovate school buildings, 21.9 billion yuan on educational equipment, and 30 billion yuan to build canteens in schools in 699 "poor" counties. This was done after media reports revealed that some students had to cook their own food during school time.

But the improvements should not slow down, let alone stop, China's efforts to provide quality education to rural children. The latest Ministry of Education data show that China still has 23 million "left-behind" children (children left behind by their parents in rural areas) who attend poor quality schools. The government should take measures to ensure that all these children get the best education.

Fortunately, the Ministry of Education has issued new plans to improve education in rural areas. In the next five years the government will allocate more funds to renovate more school buildings, train more qualified teachers and promote education. Hopefully, these measures will enable most, if not all, rural children to get quality education.

LEI XIANGPING, via e-mail

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