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Free Textbooks Help Poor Rural Children

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance have decided to allocate more money to the fund which gives free textbooks to rural students. Funding will increase from 400 million yuan (US$48.2 million) in the spring semester to 870 million yuan (US$104.8 million) in the autumn semester which is to begin next week.

The central government will buy textbooks for all students in poverty-stricken rural families in 22 regions and provinces in western and central China. In other words, 16 million students in primary schools and 8 million in junior middle schools will get free textbooks.

This move is expected to keep a lot of rural boys and girls living under the poverty line in classrooms.

Statistics show that there were 85 million people at the end of last year whose annual net income was lower than 865 yuan (US$104). Most of them are from rural areas in western and central China.

The cost for sending a child to primary school may be as high as 200 yuan (US$24) each semester in rural areas. Even after the education authorities have taken measures to lower education costs, the expenditure remains at around 100 yuan (US$12) in most less-developed regions.

Many rural kids are kept out of school because their parents cannot come up with enough money.

The textbooks given by the government will certainly help ease the financial burdens of poor families and bring many children back to the classroom.

These books will encourage children to expand their horizons and ultimately improve their lives.

More important, by sponsoring the poverty-stricken rural students, this step will narrow the education gap between rural and urban areas.

In the nation's speedy economic and social development, the government is shouldering the responsibility of creating equal opportunities for all children to be educated, at least in compulsory education.

We are hopeful the government will ensure that the specially designated free textbook fund for poor rural students will continue to increase.

(China Daily August 26, 2004)

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