The government is ploughing billions of yuan into rural education over the next four years in a bid to level the educational playing field.
Internet-based teaching and learning networks will boost the minimal resources currently available in China's countryside, where the use of computers is still rare.
Half of the money will be used to build new schools and bring old accommodation more up to date in remote and poor central and western regions.
The Ministry of Education made the pledge yesterday at a news conference in Beijing.
"The nine-year compulsory education law is basically being adhered to all over the country, but rural areas still lag behind better-developed urban areas because of the long-standing disparity in economic development," said Jiang Peimin, in the Department for Basic Education.
He said that by 2007, students in poor areas will be exempted from textbook fees and get government subsidies to help them finish their nine years' compulsory studies (six years in primary schools and three years in junior middle schools).
At least 80 percent of school-age students in the country live in rural areas, the ministry's statistics indicate.
"Bridging the educational development gap between rural and urban areas cannot be achieved overnight," Jiang said. "But we must make unremitting efforts to solve this problem in the long run."
The ministry will implement a supervision system to ensure that teaching conditions in rural areas improve, said Zheng Fuzhi, the ministry's official in charge of nationwide educational development.
Regional education departments will have to recruit more teachers for rural schools, and teachers in cities will also rotate around rural areas to help ease the shortage, Zheng said.
Xuzhou, a city in east China's Jiangsu Province, already sends teachers into rural schools for between six months and two years, says Song Nongcun, an official with the Xuzhou Educational Department.
The ministry also called on schools in cities to accept the children of migrant workers in line with the equality principle.
(China Daily May 31, 2005)