On Tuesday, the education and finance ministries said that the free textbook scheme, funded by central government since 2001, will continue to provide assistance to increased numbers of students.
From the start of term after the Spring Festival, all primary and middle school students from poor families in 592 selected counties will receive free textbooks, boarding subsidies and exemption from additional fees.
The total number of students in the listed counties who will now benefit from the scheme is 16 million.
From 2005 to 2007, the government is allocating a budget of about 22.7 billion yuan (US$2.7 billion) for education subsidies to poorer students. This comes to about 200 yuan (US$24) for each primary and 340 yuan (US$41) for each junior middle school student per year.
According to the government's schedule, the new policy should be fully implemented in all 592 counties by 2007, when education subsidies to each primary and middle school student will reach 400 and 540 yuan (US$48 and US$65) respectively.
Vice Minister of Education Zhang Baoqing underscored that all relevant departments should set up accurate databases to ensure every eligible student is reached.
A Ministry of Finance source said that the free textbook system covers 32 percent of students from impoverished families in central and western regions.
This new effort came out in the spirit of the Circular No.1 that was issued by the government on Sunday, the focus of which was economic development of China's vast rural areas.
(Xinhua News Agency February 2, 2005)