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New program leaves schoolrooms empty

2010-11-04 08:29

New program leaves schoolrooms empty

A middle school classroom is now used as a pigsty in Yuxiang town, Yongji county of Shanxi province. [Photo/China Daily]

TAIYUAN - Some newly built rural schoolhouses in North China's Shanxi province have been abandoned or even turned into pig farms amid a nationwide program to optimize rural education resources and adjust rural school locations, local residents said.

To bridge the education gap between urban and rural areas, China's education authority in recent years has promoted a national program to shut small primary and middle schools in villages or merge them into bigger schools in the county seat to ensure better education for rural children.

However, some residents in Yuncheng city of Shanxi have complained that the program wastes resources and increases their expenditures on education.

"Many rural schoolhouses, though still new, have been abandoned. It's a big waste," Bao Dongsheng, a local resident and also a policeman in Yuncheng, told China Daily.

As a local political adviser - a member of the city's Yanhu district committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - Bao had a chance to visit some local rural schools before this year's autumn semester began.

During his visit, he found a primary school at Wucun village in Yongji county of Yuncheng was shut down soon after locals had donated 320,000 yuan ($47,950) to build it.

"The brand-new school building and empty classrooms made me sad. But when I found out that the nearby Beiti middle school had become a pigsty, I felt sorry for the program," he said.

Conversely, Bao also found Yinxing primary school in downtown Yongji county packed with children - about 80 students in each classroom. Most are rural students who transferred to the school after the program began.

Bao then wrote a letter to the People's Daily, which was published on Tuesday. While commenting on Bao's letter on the newspaper's website, netizens from Hubei, Jiangsu, Hunan and other provinces said similar things had also happened in their hometowns.

"The middle school in my village was shut down two years ago. Villagers have to send their children to the centralized school in the county," Wu Pian, 60, a farmer from Xiabai village in Jishan county of Yuncheng, told China Daily.

Because their homes are far from the centralized schools, village students usually have to board in the county seat during the week. Most of the expenses are borne by the family, though they will receive some subsidy from the government.

Many villagers have even abandoned their farmland and rented rooms in the county, where they work, live and take care of their children.

Wu said each family has to pay an extra 1,000 to 2,000 yuan annually for supporting their children at a centralized school - a large amount of money for an ordinary rural family that only earns several thousand yuan a year.

As schools in the county are crammed with students, many villagers complain their children's performance declines either because teachers do not have time to tutor that many students, or because students sitting at the back of the classroom cannot hear the teacher clearly, he said.

"The centralization of basic education in rural areas is part of a government effort to use scarce teacher resources in rural areas more effectively. It is well intended, but has not received the desired result in some places," said Yu Haibo, a researcher with the rural education institute under Northeast Normal University in Changchun, capital of Northeast China's Jilin province.

After the program, the rural dropout rates even rose in some places, while the teaching quality has not improved in the centralized schools, Yu said.

Traveling tens of kilometers to school, the safety of many children can hardly be ensured, according to a research carried out in 2008 by the institute in eight provinces including Hebei, Shanxi, Gansu, Zhejiang and Yunnan.

The Ministry of Education also issued a circular in January this year, calling on local education departments to carry out the program based on their own circumstances.

Local education departments should not "blindly" adjust rural school locations. In those rural areas that are not suitable for the program, the adjustment should be temporarily suspended, the ministry said.

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