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Minister Stresses Rural Education
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 together to help modernize traditional agricultural production and equip rural-to-urban areas migrant workers with more updated skills.

More than 90 per cent 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 per cent 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 ensuring 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.

(China Daily March 28, 2003)

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