Equal opportunity for education epitomizes the most basic and important social right, said Premier Wen Jiabao over the weekend. He further emphasized that China would try to balance the development of compulsory education in 10 years.
That means more educational resources need to be shifted to underdeveloped rural areas not simply to guarantee that children there can afford a nine-year education - from the primary to junior high schools - whatever their economic conditions, but to make sure that they receive exceptional education.
As early as the 1920s, some educationists realized that underdevelopment in rural areas and the ignorance of rural villagers had much to do with a lack of education. China launched rural schools to teach villagers about basic subjects and methods in which they could manage their own affairs and help themselves.
Despite efforts in the past decades to popularize compulsory education nationwide, it is still not rare for children from poor families to quit before finishing their nine years of education because their families could not afford it. It is still common to find teachers in underdeveloped rural areas without credentials and not on government payroll because college graduates do not want to go and stay in rural parts.
In an underdeveloped mountainous county in Southwest China's Chongqing municipality, nearly 30,000 students skip lunch everyday because of high costs. They live far away from schools and cannot afford the time to travel home for lunch.
Without the opportunity of gaining enough knowledge and receiving a higher education, children from these rural, backward areas can hardly improve their lives. And in the same way, the general underdevelopment of education in an area will therefore become a stumbling block in its economic growth. Then comes the vicious cycle of inadequate input resulting from a lack of proper education that can hardly lay the foundation for economic progress.
Despite the country's rapid economic growth in the past decades, the government's investment in education has been lower than the world average of 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The figure was slightly less than 3.5 percent of its GDP last year. The input in education in underdeveloped rural areas should have been much lower.
So Premier Wen is right that education resources must be tilted to underdeveloped regions.
We need a package of policies to raise the education level in backward areas. It is far from enough to only provide children there with free compulsory education.
There should be preferential policies to encourage graduates from universities to teach in those areas. They should be paid much higher than their counterparts in developed regions and should be given subsidies for establishing homes there.
More money should also be invested in improving the teaching environment such as school buildings and teaching facilities.
Teaching conditions should have been much better than they are now in some areas had local governments paid enough attention to education. Luxurious government buildings are a striking contrast with shabby classroom huts in some underdeveloped regions.
So if governments at all levels are really concerned with education, it will not be a problem to realize balanced compulsory education in a decade.
(China Daily 02/09/2010 page8)