China gives strategic priority to the development of education, notably in rural areas and in higher education, Chinese Education Minister Zhou Ji said here on Wednesday.
"In 2002, the Chinese government affirmed that priority has to be given to the development of education as it plays a basic, leading and comprehensive role in the modernization drive of the country," said Zhou at the 32nd general conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
"Nine-year compulsory education has become a reality in areas hosting 92 percent of China's population and illiteracy among youth and adults was brought down to fewer than 5 percent by the end of 2002," Zhou said.
However, education in rural areas remains the weakest in China's educational system and the government has placed it at the top of the education agenda, he added.
Referring to achievements China has made in higher education, Zhou said: "China is possibly one of the countries that have undergone the most dramatic changes since the World Conference on Higher Education in 1998, with its university enrollment growing from 7.8 million in 1998 to 16 million in 2002.
"In the coming years, the Chinese government will continue to expand the size of its higher education while endeavoring to enhance its quality," he said.
The minister called on the international community to be vigilant about the effect of science and technology on the future of humanity, and on other issues related to ethics and morality.
He suggested that UNESCO hold a "Preventive Education" meeting to set up mechanisms and plans for scientists across the world to take joint actions in times of emergency.
Zhou also promised that the 28th session of the World Heritage Committee, to be held in China's Suzhou next June, will be a successful conference on heritage protection, and an opportunity for cultural exchanges and dialogues among different civilizations.
More than 3,000 representatives from 190 UNESCO member states attended the general conference that will run till Oct. 17.
(Xinhua News Agency October 2, 2003)