Claiming they were charged unauthorized fees, a group of students in central China's Hubei Province is suing education authorities in the city of Qianjiang.
The 14 students, aged nine to 15, study at a village primary school and a township middle school in Qianjiang. They say the bureaus of education and price listed optional guidance materials as compulsory textbooks.
The Ministry of Education has prohibited the inclusion of guidance materials on the list of mandatory textbooks since April 2003, and primary and middle schools cannot organize their students to purchase after-class tutoring materials.
The Qianjiang People’s Court has accepted the case but it is not yet on the docket.
Zhang Wenfang, one of the plaintiffs from the Qianming Village Primary School, said she refused to buy guidance materials at the beginning in February because her impoverished family could not afford them. But the school told her in early April that she had to pay 107 yuan (US$13) for the materials if she wished to continue her education, said Zhang.
By the time she filed the lawsuit in May, Zhang had only received half the materials she bought.
Documents issued by the Hubei Province Department of Education say the guidance materials Zhang bought are optional and schools cannot order students to purchase them.
“We want the local primary and middle schools to charge fees according to rules and regulations, so that all children, especially those in the country, can afford a basic education,” said Zhang, whose parents are both handicapped and earned very little money.
Seventy-year-old Zhang Jiagao, a retired teacher, said, “The education and price bureaus look on the students as a source of income. I support my grandson's and granddaughter's decision to file the lawsuit.”
Yao Lifa, a teacher at the primary school in Qianjiang and pioneering former deputy to the county-level People’s Congress, said the local education bureau could earn at least 5 million yuan (US$605,000) a year from the 20 kinds of guidance materials, such as after-class exercise books, that it offers.
Yao said the Qianjiang education bureau also ordered all primary and middle school students to buy a book published by an institution affiliated with the bureau.
“The price of the book was 7.6 yuan (90 US cents) in previous years, but it soared to 16 yuan (US$1.9) this year,” said Yao.
There are no English teachers in most of the villages in Qianjiang, but the primary school students there still have to buy English books. “The students have neither had English lessons nor have they even been given the books,” said Yao.
The teacher, well known as a fighter for the underdog, also said that all the primary and middle school students in Qianjiang were ordered to pay movie fees every semester, but many schools did not organize film showings.
The Qianjiang education and price bureaus said they had not yet received the court summons. However, the two schools where the 14 plaintiffs study have started giving partial refunds to students.
Attorney Chu Zhongxi of the Yijiang Law Firm in Hubei said the unauthorized collection of fees by educational institutions is rampant in rural areas, but the filing of lawsuits against them is rare.
He said refunds of arbitrary charges would not affect the case.
(China Daily May 25, 2004)