Beginning autumn 2006, free compulsory nine-year education will be implemented in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, according to Wang Rong, secretary of the Suzhou Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) who was speaking with mainland and Hong Kong media.
Suzhou will be the first city in the country to introduce the scheme.
According to a September 9 report published on the Suzhou government website (www.suzhou.gov.cn), Suzhou natives enrolled in government-run schools qualify for free compulsory education. Although plans have been made to cover incidental expenses as well -- including textbook fees, IT fees and so on -- specific implementations of those plans are still being worked out.
Suzhou's education expenditure lowest in province
Dong Dajie Experimental Primary School is a city-owned school with an enrolment of nearly 700 pupils. Take a grade-five student named Liu for example, at the beginning of this current term that started earlier this month, he paid 90 yuan (US$11.12) in tuition fees and incidental expenses, 20 yuan (US$2.47) in IT fees, 70 yuan (US$8.65) for textbooks and eight yuan (US$0.99) for teaching materials.
The school principal said that the minimum fee for a public school student should be pegged at 90 yuan (US$11.12) a term for tuition fees and incidental expenses. He added that, in the light of that, it would not be easy for the Suzhou government to implement free compulsory education policy.
According to official Suzhou statistics, the city's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004 was 345 billion yuan (US$42.62 billion), government expenditure on education was 4.059 billion yuan (US$501 million), or 1.18% of total GDP. It is learned that the education expenditure of the provincial government has increased every year from 2000 to 2004 – from 16.76 billion yuan (US$2.07 billion), to 17.95 billion yuan (US$2.22 billion), to 21.1 billion yuan (US$2.61 billion), to 23.94 billion yuan (US$2.96 billion) and to 27.97 billion yuan (US$3.45 billion). Suzhou's 2004 figure was 0.62 percentage points lower than that at the provincial level.
In the autumn of 2004, a national education policy called "The Single Fee System" was introduced. The policy encompasses a system of two charges: one compulsory and one optional. Under the compulsory charge, a primary student had to pay about 360 yuan (US$44.47) a year; and a middle school student about 660 yuan (US$81.53).
In Suzhou, there are 365,000 primary pupils, 237,000 junior middle school students and 180,000 children of migrant workers, 110,000 of whom are enrolled in government-run schools. That's a total of approximately 700,000 students. So, if all of them are to enjoy free compulsory education, the local government will have to add about 300 million yuan (US$37.06 million) to its education budget.
Children of migrant workers: do they qualify?
Wang Rong said the migrant workers should enjoy the benefits of policies, given their contribution to the development of China's cities. Authorities are in the process of working out the qualification and implementation details with respect to children of migrant workers.
As of end 2004, the non-Suzhou native population had reached 3 million, among them 200,000 infants and juveniles.
Free compulsory education a social equalizer
Cheng Huizhong, member of the Education, Science, Culture & Health Committee of the Standing Committee of the 13th Suzhou Municipal People's Congress, believes that education is the foundation of social development. Cheng added that given the city's present pace of economic development, free compulsory education benefits all, which is a good thing. Moreover, he added, migrant workers who contribute to the city's development and their children shouldn't be ignored.
Zhang Yulin, associate professor of the Department of Sociology at Nanjing University, thinks that Suzhou, as an economically developed city, should have implemented the policy earlier given its state of economic development. Zhang added that a free compulsory education policy is possibly one of the most effective social equalizers. Research from his earlier studies on the "educational poverty" in Jiangsu show that the issues that arise in relation to the state of education in the rural areas is a direct result of a lack of funding by local government.
The cost of putting a child through school has increased over the years, which is largely due to small education budgets. This has sadly prevented many parents from sending their children to school.
Zhang said: "When a city's total output value reaches a certain acceptable amount, local authorities should reciprocate by allocating more to education budgets, if education inequality is to be avoided."
(China.org.cn by Zhou Jing, September 13, 2005)