China makes further push for equal access to education

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Chinese local governments have revealed plans to extend educational opportunities after the central authority reasserted its determination to improve the country's educational system with a focus on promoting equal access to education.

These plans were announced during a high-profile meeting on Wednesday.

At the national work meeting on education, President Hu Jintao emphasized education as a top national priority, while Premier Wen Jiabao outlined five objectives of developing education, the first of which is to promote equality in education.

Wen identified the tasks in promoting education equality as channeling more education resources to underdeveloped areas, extending government grants to more students from low-income families, and building more special education schools, among others.

Responding to the central government, local governments have already initiated projects or are considering plans to promote equal access to education.

The municipal government of Beijing, for instance, has announced it will build 118 public kindergartens in the next three years to meet the public demand for daycare for pre-school age children, as well as to educate these children, said mayor Guo Jinlong.

Rocketing kindergarten fees and difficult admission policies to kindergartens have become a top concern for parents with pre-school children in Beijing, as the city population growth has outpaced the development of kindergartens.

This year, the city government has already invested 30 million yuan (about 4.41 million U.S. dollars) to expand building spaces hosting kindergartens and will continue to do so with another investment of 60 million yuan.

Additionally, the city will begin building 30 new kindergartens with nearly 20,000 beds.

Also, Beijing municipal government plans to build more schools or expand the responsibilities of current schools to enroll the children of migrant workers, according to Guo.

Statistics indicate that four-fifths of the nearly 10 million children who have moved to cities with their parents are from families of migrant workers and have been enrolled in public schools.

Also, projects to close the gap between education facilities between urban and rural areas have already kicked off in provinces including Henan, Sichuan, Shannxi, Liaoning and Anhui, as well as Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The mayor of Shanghai, Han Zheng, said Shanghai was currently pushing for equal pay for teachers in schools in downtown areas and those in schools located at the city's outskirts.

This is to ensure all children receive education of equal quality, he said.

China began to draft its National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development in August 2008, which aims to extend educational opportunities and raise educational quality as two of its five strategic goals.

The State Council, or the Cabinet, adopted the plan in May 2010.

Zhang Li, director of the National Center for Education Development Research, told Xinhua that educational equality has become a major task for China's education development and reform.

"For now, the starting point to realize educational equality is to work on equal access to education, given China' s national conditions. However, with the development of China's economy, the Chinese people will fulfill their hopes for 'good education'", he said.

Mayor Guo of Beijing told Xinhua after the conference that equality in education is one of the essentials for maintaining social harmony.

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