Starting next year, a stricter system to regulate charges for students during their nine years of compulsory education will be promoted in all rural areas.
Random and excessive fee-collecting will be stopped when charges on rural students are capped by a regulation system. It has already been introduced at some primary and middle schools in State-level poverty-stricken areas.
In 2002, the ceiling for charges on primary school students was set at 160 yuan (US$19) each year, while a middle school student was 260 yuan (US$31). The upward floating rate was no more than 20 per cent.
The new approach is the latest evidence in the government's determination to improve the rural education, which has had dwindling resources.
For a long time, urban education has been the focus of government input while rural education has suffered.
The ever-widening gap between rural and urban education and bad educational results from rural areas finally has awakened the government and intensified its efforts.
A national conference chaired by the State Council last month placed rural education as a top priority for China's education network.
Lack of funds have proved to be a major obstacle to the development of rural education. To make up for funding problems, illegal fees being charged used to be rampant in some rural schools.
While burdening farmers, it also caused rural students to drop out because their parents were not able to afford ballooning fees, even though they were free of tuitions as the country's Law on Compulsory Education dictates.
To regulate fee charging is, in fact, only one of the aggressive policies that have spearheaded the government's efforts to address the trouble-laden rural system.
Another encouraging message is that from this year on, the increased government investment into education will be injected totally into the rural sector.
If carried out efficiently, it will certainly give an impressive facelift to funds-thirsty rural schools.
It may also turn out to be strong financial backing for the smooth implementation of the regulation to eliminate random fee charges. In the previous experimental practice of the new system, schools that cut unreasonable charges on their students were granted extra money by the government.
These new steps are hailed as ice-breaking actions. But to thoroughly break through glacial ice formulated by long-term insufficient investment, greater efforts are needed.
(China Daily November 4, 2003)