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Rural Education to Receive Needed Aid

The central government has set aside 6 billion yuan (US$722 million) to support the revamping of old and dangerous school buildings in the country's central and western areas. Dilapidated buildings are one of the biggest problems hindering local education development.

Finance Vice-Minister Lou Jiwei announced the funding at a national conference on rural education development, which opened in Beijing Friday.

Lou said the Ministry of Finance will allocate another special fund with which school children in rural areas can be exempted from tuition and textbooks fees. But he did not reveal the budget for the fund.

He said regional financial departments should include the improvement of old and dangerous school buildings into local budgets.

Li Shenglin, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said speeding up the development of education in rural areas is crucial to the country's overall progress towards the goal of a wealthy and comfortable life for its citizens.

Illiterate people account for 8 percent of China's rural population of 800 million, having a huge impact on rural economic and social development, said Li.

Although no specific numbers have been decided, Li said his commission will increase investment year on year, to help push rapid and continuous education development in rural areas.

He called on regional planning departments to incorporate rural education improvements in local economic and social development plans.

At the conference's opening ceremony, Premier Wen Jiabao said making primary and middle school-level education universal is the key to the country's current education work in rural areas.

Wen said the State Council is determined to finish this job in the western areas by 2007.

About 10 percent of the country's total population residing in 372 counties in western areas does not receive such an education, according to the Ministry of Education.

The rest living in better developed eastern areas have got a primary and middle school education, ministry statistics show.

He reiterated that promoting education in rural areas is important to bridging the economic gap between urban and rural areas of the country.

Education Minister Zhou Ji said more efforts will go into the development of distance-learning methods, based on television and computer-aided teaching programs, among rural and remote areas to provide lifelong studies, since there is an insufficient number of teachers in those areas.

Adult and vocational education will be widely introduced to offer skill and employment-oriented learning programs for farmers, said Zhou.

(China Daily September 20, 2003)

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