Crusade for Better Rural Education

He is not on the teaching staff, but every time he goes to Baise, a poverty-stricken county in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, children there lovingly call him "teacher Chen."

Chen Kaizhi, 66, former chairman of the Guangzhou Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), is among the key people during the ongoing fourth session of the 10th CPPCC for his dedication to quality education for rural children.

Moreover, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization named him one of the top 10 educational people in China last month.

In the past 10 years, he has been to Baise 54 times, delivering more than 200 million yuan (US$24.7 million) in investments for the educational development.

"Investment comes from all circles, most of which comes from enterprises based in Hong Kong, Macao and overseas countries," Chen told China Daily in an interview.

Since 1996, there have been more than 220 new schools established in Baise, benefiting about 30,000 children whose families were too poor to send them to school.

Chen's effort is far from finished. He has set a goal to go there 100 times in the hope of aiding even more children in education.

"Now that I have already been there 54 times over the past few years, children there know me and call me 'teacher Chen.' I think the total of 100 times can be realized in my lifetime," Chen said, adding that more schools have already been built in Gansu Province, the Tibet Autonomous Region and Shanxi Province under his fund-raising program after his first visit to Baise.

In 1996, Guangdong, an economic powerhouse in South China, launched a special program to help children go to schools in poverty-stricken areas. The success there meant that the program could expand elsewhere, so Chen was selected to head for Baise.

At that time, he was vice-mayor of Guangzhou and was promoted to be the chairman of the Guangzhou Committee of the CPPCC until he retired in March, last year.

A group of children in Baise, who had been aided by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, wrote to Chen, saying they were not able to continue their studies after Deng's death in 1997.

"I wrote back and promised them continued access to schools, and now they have all been to college," said Chen, adding that he gave his personal savings to help.

The thanks he gets comes from smiling children who gather around him, asking him to help them go to school. Such visits have made Chen realize that only education can help lead rural areas out of poverty.

"Educational development in rural areas should be given priority in the drive to build a 'new socialist countryside' in the long term," Chen said.

Since Chen said 571 poor counties across China still cannot support nine-year compulsory education with local governments' financing, he suggested that more charity projects are important to help children gain access to schools.

"I'm not a teacher," Chen said. "But experience tells me that aiding children by fund-raising from social circles does promote educational development in rural areas.

(China Daily March 9, 2006)


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