Access to education, along with healthcare and housing, is one of the basic criteria on which a society is judged, with education for all being the hallmark of a truly civilized society.
Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, great progress has been made in providing basic schooling to hundreds of millions of people. In addition, the scourge of adult illiteracy is far less prevalent in China than in many other developing countries.
Millions of children in China's eastern and central regions are already starting to feel the benefit of the central government's decision earlier this year to scrap tuition and other miscellaneous fees in rural schools. For many rural families, who have yet to enjoy as many of the fruits of the nation's rapid economic growth as their urban cousins have, having to fork out for their children's education quite often tugs their purse strings so tightly that it can be unaffordable.
I know this from first-hand experience, as my wife's uncle is a schoolteacher in Xinmin, a county two hours' train ride from Shenyang, the capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province. On a visit to his home village in 2004, I saw the depressing sight of a crumbling and poorly equipped school, staffed by a handful of unenthusiastic teachers.
The school, like countless others across the country, was quite frankly on its last legs. Now, just three years on, a miraculous transformation has taken place, with a new school - serving grades one to nine - having just opened in the county town, welcoming hundreds of pupils from the town and the neighboring 10 villages.
The children of Xinmin are real trailblazers, as the area is one of the first in the country where this great educational reform is taking place. For their parents, gone are the days when they had to worry about being able to afford their children's education. Now it is, for all intents and purposes, free, and a school bus service has been introduced to ensure that they can all get to school on time.
To see this change and to see my wife's 6-year-old cousin being given the access to a decent education in a decent school is truly inspiring. Let's hope that this can be repeated across the country and millions of children can be equipped with the skills required for the 21st century.
The author is a senior copy-editor for China Daily
(China Daily 10/17/2007 page7)