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    Literacy course improves the lives of Salar women

2005-01-22 07:12

XINING: Local tailor Han Haijie's dressmaking business has shot from non-existent to flourishing thanks to a literacy course that has taught her the simple basics of reading and writing.

The 39-year-old, in Xunhua Salar Autonomous County, Northwestern China's Qinghai Province, says the course has changed her fate.

"The training provided me with basic knowledge and a skill for living," Han said. "It was traditional that girls like me were forbidden to go to school in Salar when I was young."

Han's family led a miserable life before she graduated from her literacy classes and could earn more for her family.

"We had no stools at that time and guests had to sit on the ground," Han said. "I once tried to raise chickens, but they mostly died since I knew so little about chicken farming."

Qinghai Province is one of China's major areas with a large population of ethnic minorities. Among its 5.28 million residents, 45.5 per cent are from ethnic minority groups such as Tibetan, Hui and Mongolian, and many, especially women, are illiterate. In Xunhua, for example, 90 per cent of the illiterate women are from ethnic minorities.

Illiteracy has become a major barrier preventing them from enjoying equal rights in politics, economy, culture and education, said Yao Yanhong, deputy director of the elementary education office under the Qinghai Provincial Education Department.

Qinghai Province has responded to the needs of a large and geographically isolated population and is now concentrating its efforts on women and minority groups.

A new course combining literacy with training geared towards the needs of farmers and herdsmen, including breeding livestock, tailoring and cash crops planting.

"When the county government opened literacy classes, I registered immediately. It is always good to learn something," Han said.

She is now teaching other villagers literacy and tailoring skills.

Meanwhile, the Qinghai Provincial Education Department has also asked primary and middle schools to open their reading rooms and libraries to farmers to give them more access to public education resources. Programmes in Qinghai have helped 106,000 people learn to read in the past four years.

The United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded the province the King Sejong Literacy Prize last year for its outstanding achievement in eliminating illiteracy.

(China Daily 01/22/2005 page3)


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