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Scheme helps prepare rural children for life in city
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Halfway up the Longquan Mountain sits a tiny village where Fu Qing used to live with her parents.

Each morning, the young girl would get up at 6:30 am and after breakfast, walk for 40 minutes along a winding mountain path to the nearest primary school.

In winter, she would often become anxious toward the end of the school day, concerned she might not make it home before sunset.

But these days, the 14-year-old no longer has to worry about long lonely walks on dark mountain paths.

Along with 3,164 other children from Longquan Mountain, Fu now attends a boarding school in Chengdu's Longquanyi district. Exempt from tuition and lodging fees, each student also receives 130 yuan a month for meals and bus fares, and two new uniforms each year.

The youngsters are all part of the Golden Phoenix Project, a pilot program that aims to provide better schooling for children from Chengdu's rural areas. Authorities in the Sichuan capital hope it will also better prepare them for urban life.

Longquanyi covers an area of about 500 sq km, two-fifths of which is mountainous. About 60,000 people live in the mountains, most of them farmers.

Fu's former primary school was in Chadian, a village located at the very heart of Longquan Mountain. It had just six classrooms and on rainy days, the roof leaked.

Once the rain had stopped the students would have to repaint the blackboards with ink, which would get washed off in the downpour. And at the start of every semester, Fu and her classmates had to carry their desks and chairs to school, because there was no money to buy new ones.

In the evening, Fu would make dinner for herself and her mother, who spent her days growing beans and fruit on the mountain. Fu's father worked at a construction site in Chengdu.

The local government launched the Golden Phoenix Project in 2005 in a bid to bring youngsters like Fu down from the mountain and into middle schools in the towns.

As well as providing them with financial support, the authorities allocated 160 million yuan for the construction of a boarding school, which, on its completion next year, will be able to accommodate 5,000 students.

Fu is one of 1,840 students from mountain villages currently living and studying at the almost-complete school, which boasts 121 teachers, including 20 who act in loco parentis.

And rather than having to repaint the blackboard after each downpour, Fu now enjoys computer studies and physical education classes when she gets to run on the rubberized athletics track, something she had never even seen before.

The new school is helping provide Fu not only with an education, but also a real insight into urban living.

Since she has been there, she has learned how to use a flush toilet, for example, and understand traffic lights.

Her biggest dream is to finish her education and become an office worker in the city.

Thanks to the Golden Phoenix Project, all middle-school-aged children from Longquanyi's mountainous areas attend boarding schools in nearby towns.

The district government is now planning to spend a further 40 million yuan to establish similar schools for primary students.

Zhou Jiping, head of Chengdu's education bureau, said: "The Golden Phoenix Project is just one of the efforts being made here to ensure the balanced development of urban and rural education."

Children studying under the project often perform better than their peers from urban areas, he said.

Over the past four years, local authorities have spent 1 billion yuan on the construction and renovation of 400 schools in rural areas. Rural students are exempt from tuition fees for compulsory education and from next year, they will also be provided with free textbooks.

"By doing so, we hope to give all kids in Chengdu a fair and equal start," Zhou said.

(China Daily November 21, 2007)

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