The Chinese government is to provide more free textbooks to impoverished primary and middle school students.
A circular, jointly issued by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Education, also directs regional governments to exempt poor students from miscellaneous charges and to provide them subsidies.
A source from the Ministry of Finance said China initiated the central-government-funded free textbook system in 2001. It covered 32 percent of students from impoverished families in central and western China, including 56 counties in southern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the region’s border areas.
The budget for the system was raised from 100 million yuan (US$12.05 million) in 2001 to 400 million yuan (US$48.2 million) in 2003, according to the source.
But many say that it is still nowhere near enough.
Bai Enpei, secretary of the Yunnan Province Communist Party committee, said on Thursday that expensive textbooks had forced many rural school kids to quit school.
Bai said during a teleconference that it is necessary to invite public bids for the distribution and publishing of textbooks to bring down prices.
" In Lahu Autonomous County of Lancang alone, for example, people only receive an average of about three years of education. Many kids from poor rural families had to leave school because of the expensive tuition," Bai reported.
"The prices of textbooks must be brought down and the interests of the ordinary people should not suffer for the hefty profits of a few departments," he said.
Home to about one-third of China's ethnic minority population, Yunnan Province is among the nation’s poorest areas and faces a tough challenge in providing universal education to its rural population.
In some of China's outlying mountainous areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, many children of poverty-stricken families still cannot afford to go to school. Quite a few drop out of school to help support the family.
Much of the government educational expenditure, however, is spent on school administration and paying teachers, with only a small part used to improve teaching facilities and purchase textbooks.
To solve the problem, the China Youth and Children's Development Foundation launched Project Hope in 1989. The project seeks public support to help poor school-age children in rural areas to complete their primary school education.
(Xinhua News Agency February 27, 2004)