School fees are no longer a barrier to education for 33,000 students in the underdeveloped areas of Ningbo, a boomtown in east China's Zhejiang Province, as of the fall semester.
As part of its free education scheme, the first ever in China, the municipal government of Ningbo and local governments at county level will sponsor these students' primary and junior high school education and offer special scholarships to those from poor families.
The government will spend 14.5 million yuan (US$1.75 million) on the scheme this year, a source from the municipal education authority said Sunday.
Wang Xiaobing, a farmer's son and a third-grader at a local primary school, was delighted at the news.
The Wang family, who live on a small piece of farmland and eggs laid by a dozen hens, had real trouble affording the 100 yuan (US$12) tuition fee each semester. The start of a new semester always saw the boy in tears of embarrassment over his outstanding payment.
Starting from this fall, Wang will be exempted from all his school expenses and get a scholarship of 420 yuan (US$50) a year as well.
Though Ningbo has reported fast economic growth since China's reform and opening up, farmers in the 20 rural towns and counties have lagged far behind urban areas.
The local education authority said the free education scheme would help ease the farmers' burdens and improve the quality of life for the rural population.
(Xinhua News Agency July 1, 2002)