Accelerated development of education services in rural areas and increased academic efficiency at the nation's universities are to receive top priority over the next few years, said Zhou Ji, the new minister of education in a group interview Thursday in Beijing.
According to Zhou, efforts are being stepped up to raise awareness among the rural population of the importance of the nine-year compulsory education program, as the sheer size of the rural population -- farmers account for the bulk of the country's 1.3 billion population -- makes this difficult task a critical one.
Under China's nine-year compulsory education plan, children are required to attend six years of primary school and three years of middle school.
Zhou said basic, adult and occupational education will be developed in parallel to help modernize traditional agricultural production and equip rural-to-urban areas migrant workers with more updated skills.
More than 90 percent of the country's population has completed the nine-year compulsory education program. This achievement has been regarded as a good example of delivering education to the public in a developing country, said Zhou.
"Although we have no exact timetable to popularize the nine-year compulsory education for the remaining 10 percent of the population, we are determined to help those people receive such education as soon as possible," said Zhou.
Turning to the future of higher education, he said universities are being encouraged to undertake national technological innovations.
"Universities should become a driving force for the country's theoretical research, applied science and the commercialization of new technology," said Zhou, who graduated from the Department for Precision Instruments of Tsinghua University in 1970.
The new education minister has pledged himself to assuring the development of high-quality education for all levels of people at all ages.
"High-quality education means a high rate of students' employment and work units' interest in graduates," said Zhou.
He also vowed to widen employment-oriented occupational education programs, drive education development through information technology, build knowledge-based communities, and propel continuous education, so as to provide lifelong study opportunities for people.
Touching on international cooperation, Zhou, who obtained a doctorate degree from the New York University in Buffalo in the United States, said excellent foreign educational institutions are welcome to jointly run schools with Chinese counterparts.
Overseas Chinese scholars and students are also encouraged to contribute to the country's economic and social development through various ways, he added.
Before becoming the education minister, Zhou had worked as mayor of Wuhan, capital city of Central China's Hubei Province, director of Hubei Provincial Science and Technology Department and professor at the Central China Science and Technology University in Hubei.
(China Daily March 27, 2003)