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China expands basic education
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More than six million people in western China have learned to read and write since the government launched a major literacy campaign in 2003, the Ministry of Education announced on Monday.

By the end of last year, 98 percent of the rural population in western China had access to basic education, up from 77 percent in 2003, said Jiang Peimin, director of the ministry's basic education department.

Jiang gave no exact figures for the number of children in basic education, but he said less than five percent of minors were illiterate.

The campaign, launched in 2004 with a 10-billion-yuan budget (1.37 billion U.S. dollars), included the implementation of nine-year compulsory education, the eradication of illiteracy among young and middle-aged adults, and the refurnishing and construction of campuses.

According to the statistics released by the ministry, 7,651 schools in 953 counties in the region were renovated or built, with 10.8 million square meters of campus areas added to accommodate 1.95 million students.

More than half of the middle school students in the region board at school, while the figure is 11.6 percent for primary school students.

School dormitories were getting bigger as the per capita living space reached 3.8 square meters, an increase of 0.3 square meters for middle school students and 0.2 square meters for primary school students.

By the end of 2007, China had about 30 million boarders, an increase of 680,000 over the previous year, according to the Ministry of Education.

However, education in the rural areas still faces challenges as teachers are in great demand, said Song Yonggang, deputy director of Normal Education Department under the Ministry. Less than 5 million teachers, half of the total, are working in the countryside. However, there are 330,000 schools in the countryside, about 79 percent of the country's total, according to the Ministry's statistics. The ministry and local governments have implemented plans to encourage teachers to work in the rural schools, said Song. The plans include sending more college graduates, compulsory internship and upgrading rural teachers' training, according to Song. The Ministry has to date sent more than 33,000 teachers to 4074 rural schools in 395 counties and provided on-line training courses for more than one million rural teachers.

China's western provinces are less developed and illiteracy rates in the provinces of Qinghai, Yunnan, Guizhou, Gansu and Sichuan, and in Tibet, Xinjiang and Ningxia autonomous regions are relatively high.

The government has taken a series of measures to promote education in ethnic minority areas. From 2001, it began the second phases of the "Compulsory Education Project for Impoverished Areas" and the "Project for Renovation of Dilapidated Buildings of Rural Primary and Middle Schools."

(Xinhua News Agency February 26, 2008)

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