Beijing to boost spending on education in rural areas

Children eat ice cream as they await a dragon parade in Peitian village, Liancheng county, in China's eastern Fujian province. PHOTO: AFP

China has pledged to keep up heavy spending on education reform in order to close its urban-rural education gap.

Among the priorities are hiring and retaining teachers in the nation's poorer parts, and improving the quality of instruction, said Education Minister Chen Baosheng.

Student achievement in China's rural areas has traditionally lagged behind that of their urban counterparts, in part because low salaries and barebones schools have made it difficult to attract teachers.

Over half of rural students drop out of school after they finish nine years of compulsory education, either because they fail the test to enter senior middle school or to get a job to support their families.

To solve the teacher supply problem, China will expand a village teacher support programme, Mr Chen told reporters on the sidelines of China's annual legislative session yesterday.

Under the programme launched in 2015, provincial governments provide additional funding to boost rural teachers' wages by between 300 yuan (S$61.53) and 1,500 yuan per month. It has also been used to build some 400,000 dorms to give rural teachers better living conditions and to fund workplace training, Mr Chen added, noting that the government has spent 5.3 billion yuan to date.

"Today we have three million rural teachers, and they are the backbone of our basic education, especially for our rural children," he said. "This plan to support them means that rural education has risen to become a national priority."

Improving access to and attainment in education is a key step to realising China's goal of becoming a xiao kang or moderately prosperous society free of extreme poverty by 2020.

More will also be done to address the high dropout rate in rural areas, said Mr Chen.

Under its current Five-Year Plan for education, China wants to ensure that all junior secondary school graduates in poor regions who do not enter senior secondary education are funnelled into vocational schooling.

Beijing has boosted government funding of senior secondary schools in poor areas to raise the number of students who go on to college. Currently, less than one in five studying at China's top universities is from rural areas.

The "Made in China 2025" initiative announced in 2015, that will see China speedily ramp up domestic manufacturing capabilities, means there is a need for more tradesmen and artisans, said Mr Chen.

To this end, the government has started a programme to help at least one person in each poor family to master a skill, and will promote closer cooperation between vocational schools and enterprises.

"In sum, we need to develop a good education system, and a vocational education is one important part.

"We need to cultivate Einsteins, but we also need to cultivate Edisons and Lu Bans," he said. Lu Ban was an ancient Chinese carpenter who was also an engineer and inventor.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2017, with the headline Beijing to boost spending on education in rural areas. Subscribe