Children from poor families in rural areas of south China's Guangdong Province no longer have to worry about being unable to afford to go to school.
Starting from September 1, the day when most schools begin their new semesters, they can carry school-bags on their backs and go to school as usual, but without having to pay a penny.
Provincial Governor Lu Ruihua announced Thursday that the provincial government will earmark at least 300 million yuan (about US$36.15 million) annually to help solve the problem of children from rural poverty-hit families being unable to go to school because of financial difficulties.
It is the first such action that has ever been taken province-wide in China.
"With the financing, we will ensure all children in Guangdong enjoy equal education rights," said Governor Lu.
Zhang Bingshen, head of the college of economy at Jinan University, which is based in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, said: "The move taken by Guangdong is a fundamental measure to shorten the regional gap by way of transferring financial payments, which is conducive to building a solid foundation for rural development and a good way to readjust incomes."
Zhang believes Guangdong's action sets a good example for other regions in the country to follow.
There are 200 million students enrolled in primary and junior middle schools in 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in the Chinese mainland.
The rate of schooling for primary school age children is 97 percent, but the number of dropouts from junior middle schools has been climbing. In some areas, the rate of junior school dropouts has amounted to 20 percent, mostly because of financial difficulties.
The plan announced by Governor Lu will benefit 770,000 rural school-age children whose rights to education have been threatened by poverty.
In rural Guangdong, the benchmark for a poor family is a per capita annual income below 1,500 yuan (about US$180). A rural primary school student in Guangdong needs to pay 318 yuan (about US$38.3) for books and other course costs each semester although he or she is free from tuition fees, while a junior middle school student has to pay 502 yuan (about US$60.5).
There are 800 million people living in rural areas in China.
The big gap between cities and rural areas has affected the country's modernization drive. The overburden on farmers has long been an important factor influencing rural economic development and social stability in China.
China introduced the reform of replacing arbitrary fees imposed by local authorities with taxes at the beginning of this year, and farmers will no longer have to pay other fees after they have fulfilled their respective pre-set taxation targets. But the reform will affect the educational financing in some economically underdeveloped regions.
Chinese Minister of Education Chen Zhili recently said that an input guarantee system and management mechanisms should be establish by enlarging the central and provincial governments' support for fundamental education so as to ensure a healthy development of the nine years of compulsory education in the country's rural areas based on the introduction of a taxes-for-fees reform in those areas.
Guangdong, as China's forerunner in the reform and opening-up drive, has witnessed the fastest economic development in the country, with its gross domestic product (GDP) accounting for one tenth of the national total.
The province has also started to support remote poverty-hit areas such as Sichuan Province, and the Tibet and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions to develop education since 1996.
Professor Zhang Bingshen said Guangdong's move serves as a proof of China's improvement in its national strength.
"Market economic construction in the past two decades has indeed improved the economic strength of quite a number of Chinese provinces, laying a foundation for them to offer education free of charge among children from rural poor families," added the professor.
China has been making pains-taking efforts to implement the strategy of rejuvenating the country through science and technology.
Governor Lu Ruihua said, "Guangdong has been assigned the task of piloting the modernization drive in the country. Out of objectives for the modernization, improvement in the quality of the people and the degree of education is a basic goal."
According to Governor Lu, the financing will be directly allocated by the provincial bureau of finance to the bureaus of education in different counties and the funds will be eventually passed over to schools according to the actual number of poor rural students each school receives.
(People's Daily 08/16/2001)