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US$602 Million Pledged for Education
The central government has allocated 5 billion yuan (US$602 million) to promote primary- and middle-school education in 522 poor counties in the central and western regions of the country.

About 60 percent of the money will be used to build new schools. The remainder will be used to update the skills of teachers, prepare books and other teaching instruments, and offer free textbooks to cash-strapped students, sources from the Ministry of Education said.

The project is expected to be completed by 2005. More than 460,000 primary- and middle-school teachers in the 522 counties will receive skills training and 60,000 schools will be equipped with technology-augmented teaching facilities, said Chen Weiguang, an official of the ministry's Finance Department.

The 522 poor counties located in 19 central and western provinces or autonomous regions, such as the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Gansu Province, are in dire need of primary- and middle-school learning programs because backward educational conditions have hindered economic development in those regions, said Chen.

Primary- and middle-school level education was already widespread in better-developed eastern areas by 2000, according to the ministry.

The government has also allocated 3 billion yuan (US$361 million) to revamp the old buildings of 14,853 primary and middle schools in rural areas across the country to ensure the safety of teachers and students, Chen revealed.

Although no exact data are available, Chen said some of these old buildings could be rated as dangerous because of poor quality and long-time use.

Chen said many poor-quality buildings are the result of poor design, and illegal or shoddy construction. Some schools, located in areas where earthquakes, mudslides or flood disasters frequently happen, threaten to collapse, he added.

In related news, the State Council has approved 152 universities in relatively poor western regions to build computer-based teaching and researching networks, according to a spokesperson for the ministry.

A total of 900 million yuan (US$108 million) will be arranged with a State bond to help build the networks, said the spokesperson.

(China Daily August 19, 2002)

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