National lawmakers and political advisers have strongly warned against growing educational inequities between urbanites and farmers, saying the situation may foil the country's efforts to narrow the widening national wealth gap.
Given dire financial shortfalls in the countryside, they are calling on the government to establish fairness in allocating educational resources between rural and urban areas.
"The crux to the problem of the rich-poor gap is that most low-income people have received little or substandard education," said Hao Ruyu, a National Committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
"Only by providing them with equal educational opportunities can they share more of the fruits of economic development."
He stressed that educational equity rather than tax adjustments -- as proposed by a large number of economists -- can serve as the most important tool in narrowing the wealth gap.
Citing research based on statistics from more than 50 countries, Hao said educational disparities and unequal educational opportunities result in tremendous income disparities, both in developed and developing countries.
"That's why the Western countries pay great attention to fairness in education to ensure all people enjoy equal opportunity to achieve success in life and become rich," said Hao, also vice-president of the Capital University of Economics and Business.
But governments at all levels in China have neglected the significance of educational equity between urban and rural areas, said Zhou Hongyu, a Hubei deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC).
"Due to the government's unreasonable and unjust educational funding mechanisms, most of China's educational resources have been concentrated in cities," he said.
Statistics suggest as much as 77 per cent of the country's education funding went to cities in 2002, while rural areas, with 60 per cent of China's total population, received just 23 per cent of the funds.
The shrinking spending on rural education has led to widespread problems in student enrolment, school conditions and even rural teachers receiving their salaries.
Dropout rates among rural students remain high despite the government's heightened efforts to achieve nine-year compulsory education for citizens nationwide.
It is estimated that most of the 1.1 million dropouts in primary schools throughout the nation are from rural areas.
As a result of poor education, the number of rural students who go to elite universities has been declining over the past decade, according to recent research.
Rural students accounted for 17.6 per cent of the total in prestigious Tsinghua University in 2000, a decrease of 4.1 per cent from 1990, according to the research.
Meanwhile, the proportion of rural students dived to 16.3 per cent in 1999 at Peking University, compared with 18.8 per cent in 1991.
To address the worsening problem, NPC deputy Liu Xiao from Hunan Province urged the government to shoulder more responsibility for intensifying rural education through sufficient State funding.
"The government should increase its financial input in rural areas so as to improve school conditions there," he said.
The NPC deputy added that the government should also encourage rural teacher-training through special funding and policy incentives in order to improve the quality of teaching in the countryside.
(China Daily March 10, 2005)