The Ministry of Education will take action to accelerate educational development in rural areas where 64 percent of the Chinese population resides but education is not properly emphasized.
"Further popularizing education in rural areas is crucial to upgrading the skills of 800 million rural people and helping them economically, Minister Zhou Ji said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.
He said the central government will conduct a national conference on rural education later this month to develop and implement strategic plans to equip farming families with updated learning methods, writing abilities, and agricultural skills.
Illiteracy and poor education habits in rural areas have been a longstanding bottleneck in China's move from a traditional agrarian nation to a modern industrialized one, according to the ministry.
Government statistics show that 95 percent of workers in agriculture, forestry, fishery and animal husbandry sectors hold only primary and middle school learning backgrounds.
On average, the education level of the rural populace of those in ages 15 and above is less than seven years of schooling, three years less than their peers in urban areas.
About 75 percent of the country's total 85 million illiterates live in western rural, poor areas, the ministry's statistics indicate.
To date, more than 90 percent of the country's population has received primary and middle school level education since then. That achievement has won acclaim from the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and especially developing countries, Zhou said.
However, the remaining 10 percent of the population residing within in 372 counties in western areas has not received even a primary or middle school level education.
Zhou said such education programs will be popularized among these counties within the next five years.
Distance-learning methods, based on television and computer-aided teaching programs, will be widely used in rural and remote areas to provide lifelong studies, since the number of teachers in those areas is insufficient, said Zhou.
Adult and vocational education will be further developed to offer skill-oriented learning programs for farming people, he said.
(China Daily September 16, 2003)