It is good news the Ministry of Education will allow the reuse of textbooks in primary and middle schools in some rural areas starting this new semester.
The central government will set up a fund for the purchase of these textbooks, which will be issued to students free of charge. Students will be required to keep the books in good order for their reuse by others.
This is something we should have done much earlier, in both rural and urban schools.
A member of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) put forward a motion during last year's session calling for the central government to introduce such a textbook scheme nationwide. Such a suggestion has been put forward by scholars and experts in past years.
It is estimated that 30 billion yuan ($4.2 billion) is spent on the purchase of textbooks during the nine-year period of compulsory education nationwide. About 450,000 tons of paper is used annually in the printing of these books, not to mention the number of trees that have to be felled.
Even if half or one-third of the textbooks can be reused for more than three years, a considerable amount of paper will be saved, and at the same time, the pollutant produced in paper-making will be reduced.
Families will also benefit as it reduces, or in some cases, does away with expenditure on school textbooks.
Some may argue how will schools be able to guarantee used books are clean enough for reuse, and not damaged during use.
As far as sanitation of the books is concerned, it should not be that difficult to sterilize them before reuse. When it comes to the protection of the books, teachers and parents must ensure their charges know these books are valuable and must be handled with care so that they can be passed on to others.
When I was a primary school student, the first thing we did was to cover our new textbooks with brown paper and put them under our pillows to keep the cover smooth and flat. In this way, the original cover was not damaged. The good habit of washing our hands when possible, helped keep our textbooks clean.
I still remember we donated our used textbooks to students in the rural areas less well off. We were told our books would help ease the burden of our poor rural brothers and sisters.
We were proud to keep our textbooks clean and intact at a time when frugality was advocated as a merit.
My wife and I kept up the habit of wrapping the textbooks of our daughter. But never knew where to donate them after use, so we sold them to scrap merchants.
The rapid economic development and improvement of living standards for most Chinese should not be a reason to abandon our traditional practice of thriftiness.
On the contrary, the more economically advanced we become, and the more resources we consume as a result, thrift should play an even more important role in guiding our policy-making and our individual lifestyles.
It was reported there were difficulties in carrying out the textbook scheme. I believe that the opposition was from publishing houses and schools. Some reports mentioned that publishing houses would suffer if fewer textbooks were printed, and so would schools, some of which benefit from selling textbooks to students by getting kickbacks from the publishers.
Nevertheless, our policymakers should never take the side of interest groups when mapping out policies. Instead, they must take a long-term view for the sustainable development of our country.
I was impressed with what Premier Wen Jiabao said in his speech at Harvard: "No matter how small an issue is, it turns out to be a big one when it multiplies the population of 1.3 billion; however huge the financial resources and commodities are, they can be very small when they are divided by such a large population."
This should be the basic philosophy that underlines whatever policy our government implements.
We are happy to see that the textbook reuse scheme is being put in place in some rural areas, and it should be applied in urban areas as well. This is because we need to cultivate the awareness of thriftiness among students, apart from saving on resources.
A couple of years ago, I noticed that some students were selling their used textbooks on the campus of Peking University. I told my daughter that she should buy some of the books, but she never did for fear that the books had not sterilized.
If the school could have sterilized the books, I believe my daughter and her schoolmates would have had no hesitation in buying them.
I always believe it is a great idea for students to have a place on campus or the Internet to swap textbooks, which will not only save money but also cultivate an awareness of thriftiness.
Governments and schools need to do something to facilitate the second-hand textbook business on campus or on the Internet.
From a long-term point of view, a sense of thriftiness should be instilled in students in the reuse of textbooks and the swapping of these books, it could play a significant role in the saving of resources and protection of the environment.
We always say that we need to be concerned about the future generation, but we also must be concerned about their consumption and how it will impact on generations to follow. So we should never underestimate the accumulative effect of whatever dispense with in our daily lives.
The government must forge ahead with the project as it constitutes part of the country's sustainable development.
(China Daily 03/07/2008 page9)