Funds sought to help educate kids in rural west

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The Chinese government should increase financial support to enable about 5.9 million children aged from 3 to 5 in West China's rural areas to receive early childhood education, argued experts.

A boy eats a chicken leg he found in a garbage landfill in Guiyang, capital of Southwest China's Guizhou province on Sept 18. Like him, many children in rural China cannot afford to go to a kindergarten. [Photo/China Daily]

A boy eats a chicken leg he found in a garbage landfill in Guiyang, capital of Southwest China's Guizhou province on Sept 18. Like him, many children in rural China cannot afford to go to a kindergarten. [Photo/China Daily]

Studies show kids in China's rural west lag behind their urban counterparts in language skills and social networking.

An estimated 8.5 million children aged from 3 to 5 live in villages in West China, and only 30 percent of them get admitted to kindergartens, according to statistics from the China Development Research Foundation.

There are 12 provinces and autonomous regions in West China including Yunnan and Qinghai provinces.

A research conducted by Peking University in 2009 showed children from the regions' rural areas scored 60 percent lower than their urban counterparts in language, cognition and communication skills.

Employing volunteer teachers to provide free education for young children in villages can be a possible solution, Lu Mai, secretary general of the foundation, said at the 2011 International Conference on Early Childhood Development held in Beijing on Tuesday.

The foundation has run two pilot projects in Qinghai and Yunnan provinces since 2009 by recruiting those who are either experienced in early childhood education or graduated from normal universities to provide free education to rural children.

Every volunteer teacher needs to frequently visit one or two teaching sites - usually set up by renovating an abandoned room or house in a village - and make sure that children in the selected villages are given three-hour lessons three times a week.

So far, the China Development Research Foundation has established 147 teaching sites in Qinghai's Ledu county with support from local educational authorities, and more than 3,400 children have benefited from the program, said Su Ning, standing committee member of Qinghai provincial Party committee.

The provincial government has decided to allocate 15 million yuan (US$2.4 million) every year to promote this program across the whole province, she announced.

Lu from the foundation calculated that the cost of offering early childhood education was 800 yuan per head per year. Therefore, it will cost the Chinese government 4.7 billion yuan to help educate the 5.9 million children in West China's rural areas.

Chen Zhili, vice-chairwoman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, stressed at the meeting that the Chinese government was capable of sponsoring such programs to enhance early childhood development among the rural population, especially in terms of education and nutrition.

Local farmers welcomed the program. A survey polling 1,242 parents showed 79 percent of the respondents saying that their children made "remarkable progress" after receiving free early childhood education, according to the statistics provided by the foundation.

"My daughter joined the early childhood education classes a year ago. Now she can sing many songs and count to 10," He Jiahai, father of a 4-year-old girl in Xundian Hui and Yi autonomous county in Yunnan, told China Daily on the phone.

"She has become more independent and polite than before," he said. Earlier, he was spending 200 yuan a month to send his daughter to the nearest kindergarten which was more than an hour's walk away.

For Geng Shaoxian, 31, who has been teaching in Yunnan's two teaching sites since 2010, a monthly salary of 1,200 yuan is not the biggest motivation to get up at 5 am and bike her way on bumpy roads for two hours everyday - a trip she has been taking for the past two years.

"Whenever I visit a student's home, parents keep saying 'thank you, teacher Geng' and hand in a cup of hot tea," Geng said. "That makes me feel what I have done is meaningful."

However, she added that the paucity of funds to buy toys and textbooks for children remained a big problem.

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