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What Is Behind the Loss of School Pride?

When it comes to education, new sources of vitally needed funds are often welcomed by administrators, teachers, parents, and, of course, students.

Though chronically short of money, schools must be careful when and how they take contributions from non-traditional sources. But when they do decide to take such cash, it can have tremendous benefits.

Take the China High School Basketball League as an example. It serves as China's basic student basketball league and made the decision to co-operate with the sporting giant Nike, winning sponsorship in 2003 to fund the league. This helped to energize the league's activities across the nation, serving the interests of basketball and the needs of children throughout the country.

This kind of joint effort is a logical way to improve the health, welfare, and fitness of students, and, if maintained and supervised properly, will continue to be beneficial. If Nike enjoys some benefits from publicity along the way as a good corporate citizen, so be it.

But what about more attempts by firms to benefit from corporate benevolence, when public bodies make seemingly strange deals with private firms? How far should things go?

In Taicang in Jiangsu Province some children are wearing mandatory school uniforms that feature advertising for a clothing firm. Some parents say this violates their children's rights.

In this case, primary and middle school children are literally "mobile ads" for a firm that has provided school uniforms for the school district in Taicang. The uniforms feature a 28-centimetre-long and 9-centimetre-wide trademark with the non-word "SANFAN" printed out in large capital letters on the uniform's back.

According to the Modern Express newspaper based in Nanjing, a group of parents have complained that their children should not be forced to wear the uniforms provided by the Taicang Sanfan Clothing Factory, a manufacturer of school uniforms. The parents argue that a uniform should not be engaged in such blatant advertising, but should be promoting the culture and spirit of their schools.

"Why not print the school's name or some encouraging words instead of such a glaring advertisement?" one parent asked.

It is unclear what exact benefits, if any, the district has gotten from the clothing firm because it has refused to discuss the matter.

Meanwhile, a Sanfan Clothing Factory spokesman has admitted the firm is affiliated to the Taicang Education Commission. The factory is the only such firm producing uniforms for local primary and middle schools.

Only four schools have asked the factory to print their school names instead of the company trademark on the school uniforms. Taicang Advanced Middle School is one of them. Officials there said they wish to establish pride among their students so children understand they represent an educational institution, not a company.

When reporters asked to speak to authorities at the Taicang Education Commission -- a public body using public funds -- they hid in their offices.

These officials are not above supervision. They are required to answer questions about how they use public money, and whether they have personally benefited in any way from this clothing deal. The press is the public's representative.

Two things should immediately happen in this case. Firstly, light should be shed on the cosy relationship between the Taicang Education Commission and the clothing factory.

And secondly, every student in Taicang should wear a uniform with a school logo, not the logo of a clothing firm.

(China Daily June 15, 2005)

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