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Herders' Kids Bid Farewell to Horseback Schools

Garsang Doje, a 14-year-old Tibetan boy in the northwestern Qinghai Province, is among the herders' kids to have left the mobile "horseback schools" in their home villages for a formal boarding school more than 500 kilometers away.


The so-called "horseback schools" were for a time the only place for the herders' children to pick up some rudiments of primary school education.


As the nomadic herders had to travel on horseback from one place to another looking for meadows and water, a horseback school -- simply a teacher on horseback with a blackboard and some chalks -- would follow them wherever they went. A mobile school like this often had to serve up to 100 nomadic families.


For Garsang Doje, the new school life has come as a blessing for the International Children's Day, which falls on Tuesday, June 1.


Though a newcomer, the boy said he enjoyed life at the new school, the Xihai boarding school in Haibei Tibet Nationality Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai.


He was just one of the growing number of herders' kids to attend boarding schools, which offer formal schooling and more opportunities for further education after they finish primary school, said the school principal Doje.


"As a result, the old form of mobile schools are rarely seen in the province today," said the principal.


Over the past decade, the Chinese government has built more schools in the vast pasturing areas of the province to provide formal education to the school age kids. Doje's school alone, one that offers primary and secondary education, involves 9 million yuan (about US$1.08 million).


"All the herders know a good education is essential for the children, and those living in the outback of the province would seldom hesitate to send their children to formal schools, even if they have to travel far," said principal Doje.


It was therefore not rare for herders' kids from sparsely populated areas to attend boarding schools far away from home, he added.


Of all the 572 school kids -- including Tibetans, Mongolians as well as Han nationals -- at Doje's school, over 400 are boarders, he said.


"A boarder has to pay just 35 yuan (US$4.2) a month, and the prefecture treasury has earmarked a per capita 50 yuan (US$6) a month to subsidize their meals," said Doje.


Sources say that China's ethnic people, including the Tibetan herders' children, have had much easier access to school, thanks to the policy and financial support from the central and local governments in recent years.


China has earmarked an annual 100 million yuan (US$12) for infrastructure construction of nationwide primary schools since 1985. In 1990, the country set up a special fund to foster education in the ethnic localities and has since injected huge funds to help school dropouts and build better schoolrooms in these places, which now have more than 100,000 primary schools and over 12,000 secondary schools according to incomplete statistics.


(Xinhua News Agency June 2, 2004)


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