Shanghai to Open First Free School for Poor Children

Shanghai, an east China metropolis, is busy preparing for its first free school targeted at poor students, which is due to open on September 1.

The preparations include selecting an existing school from among the schools in Zhabei District and revamping it to the needs of the planned school.

The school's students will be exempt from not only tuition fees, but fees for lunch, books, uniforms, as well as in-campus and off-campus activities, said Lu Guozheng, an official with the local education bureau.

Lu disclosed students with excellent performances can also win scholarships.

According to plans, the school will recruit a total of 1,120 students for 24 classes in seven grades, from preparatory class through all six middle school grades.

Students seeking entrance to the school must come from families with per-capita incomes below the city's poverty line (300 yuan per month), and must show good moral standards and study habits.

Lu said that the local education bureau will assign first-class teachers to the school.

It is estimated that 10 percent of the school-age children in Shanghai are from families whose average incomes are below the poverty line.

At present, an average middle school student in Shanghai has to pay from 1,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan a year. Plus expenditure on daily study and living, it costs over 5,000 yuan a year to meet the basic demand of a middle school student.

"If we are able to foster a university graduate from a poor family, it might change the fate of the family," said Guo Tiancheng, director of the Zhabei District, where the school will be set up.

Many poor students study hard, but they feel ashamed of their families' poverty, said senior education official Zhang Minsheng. "The free school will not only reduce the family burden, but provide the students with a better psychological environment as well."

The cost of rebuilding the free school in Zhabei is estimated at 12 million yuan, while the annual operation costs of the school will hit some 10 million yuan, which is coming from both governmental and private donations.

At the moment, the school is soliciting suggestions for an appropriate name.

(Xinhua 03/12/2001)

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