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12-year compulsory education 'unlikely'
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A proposal that China should make education compulsory for its students for a period of 12 years, instead of the current nine, "will not be implemented" in the near future, the chief education official said Monday.

Minister of Education Zhou Ji told China Daily that the central government was "not considering" extending the duration of compulsory education for the time being.

"The word 'compulsory' means everyone is obliged to attend school for 12 years. We have to give everyone equal education opportunities, and we need more time to implement the proposal," Zhou said, after several National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) delegates submitted the proposal at the ongoing sessions, saying it would improve the employment situation.

Zheng Gongcheng and Cai Fang, members of the Standing Committee of the NPC, said they had already submitted the proposal when the central government was drafting the country's medium- and long-term education program.

"Better and longer education should become an essential part of a citizen's social welfare, especially for rural kids, who have been lagging behind for years," Zheng, a professor at the Renmin University of China, said.

In January, the government of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region announced it will provide free education for school children in the southern part of the region, its most underdeveloped, for a period of 12 years.

Zheng said the government should increase spending on education.

China's Education Law requires spending on education should be no less than 4 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), but the country has been spending far less that, Zheng said.

Zheng, along with a panel of 200 experts, prepared a social welfare report last year, in which his suggestion was mentioned.

Premier Wen Jiabao praised Zheng's panel for preparing the report, which "painted a true picture of China's social welfare society".

"China can do it (extend the length of compulsory education) now," said Cai Fang, a leading researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "This is not only about helping social welfare but also about reducing the impacts of the financial crisis."

According to Cai's research, if the nine-year compulsory education is strictly implemented at all junior high schools in the country's rural areas this year, there will be 1.86 million fewer laborers entering the job market.

And if the 12-year compulsory education is fully enforced at all senior high schools in rural areas, the fierce job market will be saturated by 8.45 million fewer people.

This year, China will be able to offer only 10 million new jobs in the cities.

"The figures speak volumes. It is important to solve the employment problem, and the extension of compulsory education will only help," he said.

(China Daily March 10, 2009)

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