New education push targets rural youths
About 200,000 young people in rural areas are expected to benefit over the next five years from an unprecedented education plan that should bring new access to higher education into the nation's villages.
Education officials Friday launched the programme -- namely "one college student in one village.''
It will adopt modern means of distance education to bring courses to some of the poorest students in China.
Courses to be offered range from information technology to agricultural techniques.
China's Central Radio and Television University will play a main role in implementing the plan, officials said, with the university, together with similar universities at all levels, constituting a distance education network across the vast most-populated nation on the planet.
The need for well-educated human talent is more and more urgent in China's villages, especially in villages in the western regions, said Vice-Minister of Education Wu Qidi.
However, very few students who come from rural areas return to their hometowns after they graduate from universities, she said.
Wu indicated the plan is designed to nurture people who can stay where they live after receiving their higher education and thereby contribute to the local development of their communities.
The plan will be implemented in 100 counties in the western regions at first on a trial basis. The first recruitment will start in July.
Farmers and their families who have received education in high schools, village officials and elite students are encouraged to sign up for the programme. Applicants need to pass a specially-designed entrance exam, officials indicated.
Once recruited, farmers do not need to quit their daily jobs. They can study by themselves, through television and radio, with occasional group study sessions organized in county and township educational centres.
Those who finish courses and pass final exams will obtain a degree.
Plans now call for one student to be recruited in every village each year, although there are no actual strict restrictions on the number of people recruited, Wu said.
Despite high expectations by education officials, some farmers interviewed are a bit reluctant.
"Well, I do not think it an attractive idea to receive such an education,'' said Bian Xingkuan, a resident in the Cunyi village of the Liugu township in Fuping County of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.
Bian was a teacher in village primary school and he now makes a living in the Fuping County by carrying passengers using a tricycle.
"Were I 10 years younger, I might apply for it,'' Bian, who is now in his forties, said in an interview with China Daily.
Most farmers do not have extra money to pay for tuition fees, he said. And since studying for a degree does not bring them immediate income, few will be willing to do take the time to study, he said.
Even though some could receive the education and get a degree, Bian doubts many would stay at their villages.
"Of course, the government's idea is good in theory,'' he added.
Ge Daokai, deputy head of the Ministry of Education's Higher Education Department, admitted there might be farmers who are not willing to spend money on education.
But he said the situation varies from area to area.
"The aim of the plan is to offer opportunities to farmers who failed to go to universities to gain access to higher education,'' he said.
"After all, the plan is only experimental and there is space for future improvement,'' he added.
According to Yu Yunxiu, vice-president of the Central Radio and Television University, tuition fees will be minimal to lessen the burden on students.
Wu said the ministry welcomes people and organizations from all walks of life to offer funds for the plan.
The university, together with local radio and television universities across the country, will invest 20 million yuan (US$2.4 million) in upgrading teaching facilities in county-level radio and television universities in 100 western counties to make the programme feasible, Yu said.