The new government policy of scrapping school fees for school kids in rural areas has received widespread support but there are calls for children of migrant workers based in cities to receive similar allowances.
Children who are brought to the cities by their parents seeking employment are still subject to school fees unlike their former neighbors who remain in rural areas for their compulsory education.
He Xiaoming, a kid at the Xingzhi experimentary primary school in western Haidian district in the national capital, said Wednesday that he hoped to stay in Beijing and continue studying in a middle school for local children.
"It is good news that my previous classmates in my hometown will be able to enjoy free education, but my parents cannot afford the tuition because Beijing-based schools charge a lot for those people who have not registered as permanent residents," said He, who achieved excellent marks at school.
He's parents come from east China's agricultural province of Anhui and are working as vegetable peddlers in the city.
Fu Zhiming, a teacher at the school, said, "Local students in the city will be able to enjoy free education almost at the same time as students in rural areas, but how about kids from families of the migrant workers?
"It is not fair for this group of students," Fu said, calling for policies providing free education for children of the migrant workers.
According to Yi Benyao, principal of the primary school, the school authority has made maximum efforts to help the rural students from migrant workers' families receive better education since it was established in 1994.
Currently, there are more than 3,000 students from some 24 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities studying in the school.
Education of the huge population in the countryside, which is now home to some 900 million people, has remained a hard nut to crack for Chinese leaders since ancient times.
Ancient philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC), now widely regarded and revered as China's No.1 professional teacher, initiated a model that was followed for more than 2,000 years. He opened a private school in his hometown, the small Kingdom of Lu, and enrolled some 3,000 students, charging each a symbolic "tuition fee" of "10 strips of jerked meat."
Since modern education was introduced to China about one century ago, government-funded, completely-free compulsory education for every citizen has become a long-aspired yet unattainable goal for Chinese educators, who were frequently upset by a lack of funding and government support due to wars, conflicts and other social and economic problems.
In 1986, China promulgated the law on compulsory education, which stipulates that the state should provide a nine-year compulsory education "free of tuition fees" for all primary and junior middle school students.
However, the law has failed to guarantee the funding of compulsory education, thus obliging many schools, particularly those in the impoverished rural regions, to either go on collecting the tuition fees or charge various "miscellaneous fees" on their students in the name of "voluntary donations," "fund-raising for school construction" or "after-school tutoring fees".
Recent surveys conducted by sociologists in several rural areas show that currently the Chinese farmers, whose annual per-capita net income stood at a mere 3,200 yuan (US$400) in 2005, have to pay about 800 yuan (US$100) a year for a kid's education in the elementary and secondary stage.
But the new law on free education for rural school children has been welcomed by migrant workers in the cities, who have labeled it "a milestone event".
"The policy is closely related to our life, future and fate," said Yan Guifa, a migrant worker in Beijing, whose son Yan Tianci is a student of the Xingzhi Experimental School.
Premier Wen Jiabao on March 5 pledged that his government would eliminate tuition fees for rural students receiving a nine-year compulsory education before the end of 2007.
The new policy, resulting from the central leadership's latest call to build a "new socialist countryside," will benefit some 160 million school children in the vast rural region, who make up nearly 80 percent of the country's primary and junior middle school students.
On the Children's Day of 2004, Wen joined a celebration of some 126 students from families of migrant workers, including Yan Tianci, and conveyed sincere concerns over the rural children.
"We migrant workers were so moved by the Premier's actions and inspired our children to study hard in school," Yan Guifa said, adding that the new policy doubles their happiness.
"We had never dreamed of free education," he said, "the policy means that the problems with our kids' education will be solved thanks to the government's efforts."
(Xinhua News Agency March 9, 2006)