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Free Schooling for Western Regions Next Year

China will provide free nine-year compulsory education in its poverty-stricken western regions next year and will continue to increase education investment in those areas, a senior official said.

Jiang Peimin, director of the Elementary Education Department of the Ministry of Education, said yesterday that China will invest more than 100 billion yuan (US$12.4 billion) in elementary education in the coming five years.

Jiang made the statement at a meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference on compulsory education in poor areas in western China. Officials say the disparity between the affluent east and impoverished west is growing.

He said China will focus on the shortage of teachers and on increasing the quality of elementary education teaching.

Zhou Tienong, vice chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, said China has made great progress in compulsory education over the past decade. However, the education development level is uneven nationwide. Remote and poor western regions receive less attention than China's more affluent east coast.

The imbalance is rising, and it is hard to push forward compulsory education in impoverished areas, said Zhou.

A study of compulsory education in poor regions was launched by the CPPCC in 1993. The study covered 11 years, and offered suggestions to the government on promoting compulsory education.

China aims to provide free nine-year compulsory education in rural areas in 2010 and for all students nationwide by 2015, said a recent report released by the ministry.

China will provide all students from needy families in acutely poor rural areas with free textbooks and exempt them from paying miscellaneous fees in 2007. Boarding school students will receive living allowances, according to the report by the ministry.

(Xinhua News Agency December 21, 2005)

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