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Compulsory education to cover most of western areas
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A total of 98 percent of children in China's 410 poorest western counties will receive nine-year compulsory education by the year end, according to a four-year national plan on promoting compulsory education.

Up to now, the nine-year compulsory education, including six years in elementary school and three years in junior high school, has covered 368 out of the 410 poorest western counties and the other 42 counties have made elementary schooling from first to sixth grade available for children.

Before the program was launched in 2004, the counties, mostly located in mountainous and remote areas, had a large population of minority ethnic groups who receive education for an average of only 6.7 years, said Tian Zuyin, a senior official in charge of finance with the Ministry of Education, here on Monday.

To help more children attend schools, the program focuses on relieving study expenses, providing living expenses for impoverished students, recruiting more college graduates as teachers and building boarding schools for the children whose homes are far from schools.

From 2004 to 2007, the central government allocated 10 billion yuan (1.3 billion U.S. dollars) to build more than 7,600 boarding schools for some four million students in 953 counties in the western areas.

"Infrastructure is only the fundamental condition, and education resources are more important," Tian said.

During the plan, some 11 billion yuan was allocated by the central and local governments to build distance teaching network in rural areas. By the end of this year, more than 100 million primary and middle school students in rural areas will enjoy education resources that are equal to their urban counterparts.

Since 2006, the central government has also set up a special fund to encourage college graduates to teach in rural areas according to a standard of 15,000 yuan per capita. In the past two years, a total of 33,000 college graduates were chosen to teach in under-developed western areas.

China is expected to educate more than six million young illiterates in western areas by the end of 2007, reducing the youth illiteracy rate to under five percent.

(Xinhua News Agency November 28, 2007)

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