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Legislature Reviews Education Disparity
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China is revising the 20-year-old Law on Compulsory Education to narrow the educational disparity between rural and urban areas, a step hailed by the public as an important requirement for developing social equality.

The revised law, which was submitted for deliberation on Saturday to the full meeting of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), focuses on establishing a mechanism for guaranteeing government investment in compulsory education.

The fees for compulsory education, which are provided by both central and local governments, must be included in the government's yearly budget and be increased gradually every year, according to Minister of Education Zhou Ji.

China currently has a compulsory nine years of education six years in primary school and three years in junior middle school involving 177 million registered students.

The total government investment in compulsory education is insufficient and payment of some teachers could be delayed, said Zhou.

Disparity between education in rural and urban areas is widening in some places, he said in a speech delivered to legislators at the meeting.

In major cities across the country almost all school children are able to complete their nine-year studies, but in rural areas, it is a different story.

Statistics from the Ministry of Education said that dropouts in rural primary schools accounted for 2.45 per cent of the total number of rural students in 2004, while the dropout rate in rural junior middle school reached 3.91 per cent.

The revised law stipulates that governments should increase investment in schools in rural areas as well as urban schools with "weak educational abilities."

Teachers from urban schools are also encouraged to work in rural schools for a certain period of time.

"China is now pursuing the establishment of a harmonious society. The unfairness in the educational sector is one of the biggest challenges," said Wu Quanmei, a junior middle school teacher from Yixing in East China's Jiangsu Province.

"I hope the revised law will remind governments at all levels to pay close attention to the problem and take practical measures to narrow the educational gap between rural and urban schools," Wu said in an interview with China Daily.

She admitted that there was a long way to go before all children enjoy educational equality in the country.

Besides the law on compulsory education, legislators also reviewed the draft amendment to the audit law.

The NPC Standing Committee is expected to pass the revised Audit Law when the four-day meeting is concluded tomorrow.

(China Daily February 27, 2006)

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