Before the founding of the PRC in 1949, Xinjiang had but one college, nine secondary schools and 1,355 primary schools. Only 19.8% of school-age children attended primary school, and the overall illiteracy rate was a shocking 90%. Unprecedented changes have taken place in education in Xinjiang after 1949. At present, Xinjiang has basically made the nine-year compulsory education universal and eliminated illiteracy in the young and middle-aged population. Adult and vocational education started from scratch, and has been developing steadily. Since 2006, with the introduction of a new mechanism that guarantees rural education funding, Xinjiang's primary and secondary school students have enjoyed free compulsory education. In 2008, the government granted living subsidies to all underprivileged students who live at school and exempted urban students from tuition fees during their compulsory education period. Since 2007, the state has initiated an annual budget of 129 million yuan for the education of 51,000 very poor university students and 95,000 secondary and higher vocational school students, 70% of whom come from ethnic minorities. In 2008, the Xinjiang autonomous region government invested a total of 18.77 billion yuan in the region's education system, representing a year-on-year increase of 32.3%. Statistics from that year show that Xinjiang had 4,159 primary schools with 2,012,000 students, and a 99.6% enrollment rate for school-age children. There were 1,973 secondary schools with 1,722,000 students, and 32 institutions of higher learning with 241,000 undergraduate and 10,300 graduate students in total.
The state gives priority to education for ethnic minorities and has enacted special policies to support its development. To ensure their rights to higher education, the state adopted favorable enrollment policies for ethnic-minority students in the 1950s, now including further policies for proportional enrollment, separate examinations and admission scores. The state has set up primary and secondary boarding schools in farming and pastoral areas, providing free accommodation and food, as well as books and stationery. The state is committed to the cultivation of high-caliber professionals from minority backgrounds, sending promising students for overseas studies and through programs such as Specialized Training for Xinjiang Minority Sci-Tech Personnel and the High-Level Minority Talents Program. To develop education for ethnic minorities, it encourages the use of minority languages in classroom teaching. For ethnic groups with their own written languages in Xinjiang, school education is conducted in their own languages. Over the years, special state funds have been earmarked for the compilation and printing of textbooks in Uyghur, Kazak, Mongolian, Xibe and Kirgiz languages, satisfying the needs of minority students for textbooks of major courses. In Xinjiang, test papers for the annual national college entrance examinations are printed in Uyghur, Han, Kazak and Mongolian languages.
With social and economic development and increasing exchanges between different people of various ethnic groups, more and more minority people also wish to learn the Han Chinese language. In view that around 70% of the 10 million ethnic minorities in Xinjiang hardly understood written Han Chinese, therefore posing challenges for the minority people themselves and the region's development, the autonomous region government decided in 2004 to promote bilingual education among minority students, requiring high school graduates to master both their mother tongue and the Han Chinese language. In 2008, as proposed by the Uyghur community, bilingual training programs for teachers and preschool children were carried out. Today, bilingual education efforts have proved to be a significant measure for better understanding and communication between different ethnic groups, and the development of relations among the various ethnic groups featuring equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony, and promoting common prosperity for all peoples.
To provide better basic education for minority students in frontier areas, from 2000 the state opened special classes for Xinjiang students in 13 high schools in 12 more-developed provinces and municipalities, including Beijing and Shanghai. By 2008, 28 cities in 12 provinces and municipalities had altogether 50 such classes for a total of 5,000 students, quintupling the initial enrollment. These special classes have to date enrolled 24,000 students over nine years, with 90% of the graduates advancing to higher education in inland universities, 85% at key schools. Since 2003, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region government has followed suit by starting junior-high classes in eight cities, including Urumqi and Shihezi, recruiting 5,000 students each year, mainly primary school graduates from farming and pastoral areas, especially poverty-stricken or border areas. More than 80% are children from minority farming and herding families.
Xinjiang's scientific pursuits did not really start up until after the PRC was founded in 1949. Six decades of efforts have basically established a well-structured scientific research and development system and professional teams with high achievements to support regional scientific development. By the end of 2007, a total of 1,972,000 professionals were working in Xinjiang, and by the end of 2008 these people had produced over 6,000 major scientific achievements, winning nearly 200 national awards and registering 200,000 patents. Scientific and high-tech enterprises continue to explore an innovative development path, drawing global attention with well-known names such as Gold Wind Technology, TBEA and other companies.
Before 1949, Xinjiang had no professional arts groups or academic research organizations for arts. In the past six decades, with extensive support from the government, arts and cultural facilities of all types have been established step by step, providing rich and colorful cultural activities to local communities. Statistics show that, by 2008 the region had 119 arts and performance groups, two literature and art research institutes, two arts creation centers, 15 mass art galleries, 94 cultural centers, and 1,034 village and town cultural stations. A total of 4,355 individuals became creative and performance professionals. The region has 93 public libraries and 47 museums. In addition, it has six radio stations and eight TV stations at the autonomous regional level, and 93.5% of the local population has access to radio and TV programs. By 2008 households subscribing to cable TV services reached 1,638,900, while those with digital cable TV exceeded 324,200. Since the implementation of the western region development strategy, the state has invested a total of 2.484 billion yuan in developing Xinjiang's cultural facilities. In recent years, the Xinjiang government has initiated a series of cultural programs for the general public, including organizing cultural and recreation activities in city squares and rural villages. The government also schedules professionals to go on tour to rural villages, publicizing cultural, scientific and medical knowledge. Public cultural construction projects have also boomed, introducing different cultures and promoting diverse folk cultures as well as Silk Road border cultures. The government has also set up village libraries, and radio and TV stations all over the autonomous region, to connect local peoples with the rest of the world. Other key projects include sending books and publications to Xinjiang and constructing information centers to share resources with other areas of the country. These measures have significantly promoted the development of Xinjiang's cultural programs and endeavors.
Before 1949 outbreaks of endemic and epidemic diseases were frequent due to the low level of Xinjiang's health and medical services. The overall mortality rate was 20.82 for every 1,000 people, while infant mortality rate was an astonishing 420-600 for every 1,000 births. The average life expectancy was below 30 years. In 1949 Xinjiang had only 54 medical centers, which were located in a few cities and towns, with a total of 696 beds. Every 10,000 persons had to share 1.6 beds and 0.19 doctors. Over the past 60 years, the central government has been making more and more investments in Xinjiang's medical services. By 2008, Xinjiang had altogether 7,238 medical service centers, including 1,629 hospitals with a total of 93,600 beds, and 43,800 doctors. That means 36 hospital beds and 21 doctors for every 10,000 people. Health and epidemic prevention institutions have been established out of nothing, and a systematic urban and rural health and disease-control network has been formed. Local disease control and prevention capabilities have greatly improved; some endemic diseases, such as smallpox, have been eradicated, and the incidence of other endemic and epidemic diseases has been significantly reduced.
Since the mid-1970s, Xinjiang has implemented a planned immunization program, with the vaccination rate rising steadily over the years. The improvement of healthcare services has greatly improved people's health conditions and quality of life. According to 2008 statistics, the general mortality rate was 4.88 for every 1,000 persons, and infant mortality was 29.76 per 1,000 births. The population's average life expectancy has reached 72 years. Health services in farming and pastoral areas have significantly improved, and a three-tier disease-prevention and healthcare network has been established in counties, townships and villages. Xinjiang implemented the new rural cooperative medical care system in 2003, and 89 cities and counties, or 94.6% of the rural areas, were included in the system by 2008, covering 10,059,000 farmers and herders, and those who actually participated in the program were 9,503,000, or 94.5% of the population covered by the program.
Employment has a vital bearing on people's livelihood. Over the years the Xinjiang government has been committed to the implementation of proactive employment policies and the promotion of employment growth through sustainable economic development. The government has taken effective measures to increase job opportunities and expand the scale of employment. In 2008, a total of 8,475,800 people in Xinjiang were employed. The registered unemployment rate in urban areas was 3.7%. Since the implementation of the western region development strategy, over 300,000 people in Xinjiang have been employed or reemployed each year. Local human resources agencies have been set up and on the increase; and market forces are playing a fundamental role in allocating human resources. A public employment services system has taken shape, comprising of comprehensive services centers at county and district levels, grassroots-level services posts in communities, townships and villages, along with other types of services entities. In 2008, there were altogether 107 public services centers, with 3,944 employees providing resident services and other services.
In recent years, export of labor services has become a new channel for Xinjiang to expand employment. For many years people living in remote areas of southern Xinjiang experienced hardships, since they mainly relied on the not very profitable farming and animal husbandry for a living. Since 2006, the Xinjiang government has launched a labor-export program first in southern Xinjiang's Jiashi County and then throughout the whole autonomous region. Through the program local rural residents could apply for positions at inland companies after signing up and going through training courses that give them the necessary qualifications. The local government is required to appoint a leader (or leaders) who supervise the migrant workers in their new company, and also take along with them Halal cooks to cater to their needs. Since 2006, Jiashi County has exported some 19,000 person-times of labor services to inland enterprises, making a total profit of almost 200 million yuan. The migrant workers enjoy an average per-capita yearly net income of 7,000 yuan, double that of local farmers and herders in 2008. The Xinjiang government attaches importance to professional training for migrant workers, spending 300 million to 400 million yuan each year on such trainings.
Since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policies at the end of 1978, Xinjiang's social-security system has gradually taken shape, to provide basic living guarantees for the people. The 2008 figures show that Xinjiang has 799 community services facilities in urban areas. About 9,645,700 people have taken part in the five major insurance programs, of basic pension insurance, unemployment insurance, medical insurance, industrial injury insurance, and maternity insurance. A total of 638,000 urban residents are receiving the minimum living allowance from the government. Social welfare institutions of various types have 19,000 beds by the end of 2008, taking in 14,000 residents under their care. From July 2007, the rural minimum living allowance system was introduced, providing subsidies for farmers and herders with annual average per-capita income lower than 700 yuan. In 2008, 1,310,000 farmers and herders in extreme poverty received the subsidies. By the end of 2007, medical aid services were available in every city, district and county. In 2008 the government invested 310 million yuan in medical assistance services for a total of 2,164,000 users, including 938,000 receiving medical services and 1,226,000 persons who have participated in medical insurance programs or cooperative medical care programs.
Economic development in such a large region is not balanced. Since the mid-1980s, the local government has launched a large-scale poverty-alleviation campaign, aimed at ensuring basic subsistence for the impoverished rural population, and with a major focus on the promotion of economic and cultural development. The program also underwent changes, from providing money and food, to well-planned development-oriented poverty reduction efforts with good organization and clear goals. Over the period from 1978 to 2008, Xinjiang's impoverished population decreased from 5.32 million to 2.53 million, and their living and working conditions have been significantly improved. In recent years the state has put more efforts into poverty-alleviation in southern Xinjiang, where the situation is the most severe. From 2001 to 2007, 78% of the central and local governments' poverty-alleviation funds, work-relief subsidies and subsidized loans were invested in southern Xinjiang, where 70% of the total poverty-alleviation programs were based. Since 2004, earthquake-resistant housing programs have been carried out in quake-prone areas, a six-year plan to provide safe housing for people in these areas. The state invested 41.2 billion yuan in these programs by the end of 2008, constructing and fortifying 1,895,000 houses. In southern Xinjiang, 742,300 impoverished farming families have since moved into quakeproof housing.