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Government Aid Makes Schools More Accessible to Minorities

Friday was a red-letter day for Chen Wei, one of the 8 million candidates that sat for this year's college entrance exam.


The 18-years-old received the matriculation certificate from a top university in his hometown, as well as a document telling him how to apply for a student loan to cover his tuition.


It says as a minority student from the underdeveloped Guizhou Province in southwest China, Chen is given easier access to such a loan.


"My family couldn't have been able to afford my college education," he told Xinhua in an interview. "It costs 3,000 yuan (US$370) a year at least. We've never had that much in my family."


Chen's father died many years ago, leaving behind two kids. His mother makes about 400 yuan (US$49) a month, selling vegetables in the booming southern province of Guangdong.


Chen could even have dropped out of secondary school, if there was not financial aid from his school and the local government in Longshan village, Majiang county.


He is just one of the 230-odd ethnic children in the village to be able to finish secondary schooling with such financial aid.


Minorities from 46 minority groups make up 37 percent of the population in Guizhou Province, one of the poorest in China. Starting from 2004, the province has exempted 220,000 ethnic children of tuition and subsidized each student 200 yuan (US$25) a month as food allowance.


"More than 1.3 million children will benefit from the preferential policy this year," said Huang Yan, an official with the Guizhou Provincial Department of Education. "The central and provincial treasuries will co-sponsor the aid program."


Thanks to the government aid, girls are now attending school, said Chen. "Few families sent their daughters to school before."


In fact poverty was not the only reason for that, according to Huang.


In Longshan village where Chen lives, 95 percent of the people belong to the Miao, whose tradition was for girls to stay home doing the housework.


Today, the Miao ethnic group's tradition that used to isolate girls from the society has undergone changes under China's efforts to promote nine-year compulsory education among all school-age children and the policy of aiding the poor.


The country also has a preferential policy for the ethnic population which gives priority to ethnic candidates in the annual college entrance exam by lowering the admission threshold by 20 scores. The policy has enabled a multitude of ethnic groups' students from underdeveloped regions to stand out in the fierce competition with their nationwide competitors.


China's Ministry of Education has also been working to ensure ethnic students have equal access to schools, said Minister Zhou Ji. "Ethnic education has always been the focal point of our work."


In 2004, 21.35 million students from ethnic groups were studying at schools and colleges across the country, up 13.48 percent over the 1999 figure. The number of minorities at nationwide colleges and universities, in particular, was up 70 percent compared with 1999, according to Ministry of Education statistics.


To step up education among the minorities and to improve their basic quality is vital to the overall development of China's ethnic regions, said Premier Wen Jiabao at a meeting on ethnic work in May.


By doing so, he said the Chinese government aims to narrow the gap between different regions and different ethnic groups and ensure the common prosperity of all the Chinese people.


China has spent more than 30 billion yuan (US$3.7 billion) in recent years building school facilities for the underdeveloped regions, the ethnic groups inhabited regions in particular.


(Xinhua News Agency July 30, 2005)

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