An impoverished county’s triumph in extending free education

 Through a ground-breaking attempt to provide free kindergarten education, a poverty-stricken county in northwest China has won applause in addition to prompting reflection on rural education in most parts of China. Hermes Sac à Main

Local authorities from Ningshan County in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province said that, starting this autumn, its 2,040 children aged three to six could attend kindergartens for free. Prada Sac à Main

As primary and high school educations were already free, Ningshan is China’s first impoverished inland county to offer 15 years of free schooling. sac a main burberry

The Ningshan county government said it invested 2.4 million yuan (375,000 U.S dollars) to initiate the program, hoping to raise the county’s preschool enrollment rate. sac burberry pas cher

“Most of the funds come from increased revenue, which has been boosted by our investments in ecological tourism, green mining, and healthy food industry,” said Jiang Jun, a local Communist Party of China (CPC) official. UGG Bottes pas cher

Qi Zhixiang, another local CPC official, said the county government also tightened its belt to raise funds. The county government prohibited new government car purchases and delayed renovations on its rundown office building. ugg Australia

“In Ningshan, the most beautiful buildings are the schools,” said Qi.

With a population of 74,000, Ningshan reported revenue of 30.75 million yuan last year. The government spent roughly two-fifths of its income on education, which was more than the national average of 12.5 percent.

Starting in 2007, the county launched a nutrition plan for boarding students, and it has provided free vocational training and free senior high school education since 2009.

As a result, its proportion of junior high school students entering senior high school reached 92 percent in 2009, up from 44.6 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, the national average was 52.9 percent in 2009.

“The program saved my family nearly 2,000 yuan this year. It used to be a great burden,” said Li Qiuning, a local farmer whose child attends a local kindergarten.

SETTING AN EXAMPLE

Ningshan’s bold reforms created buzz on the Internet, with many netizens amazed by the county’s efforts to make education available to all of its children and young people.

“When you look at sky-high tuitions at kindergartens in rich areas, you’ll see why an impoverished county’s provision of free education is so inspiring,” netizen Shen Feng wrote on Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular Twitter-like microblogging site.

An official from a nearby county, however, argued that other counties could not duplicate Ningshan’s feat, as Ningshan has only 10,000 students.

Netizen Wang Chuangtao countered this claim on Weibo, saying a lack of funds was not what held Chinese counties back from investing more in education.

“The real question lies in whether they see the importance of education and the need to prioritize it over economic growth,” wrote Wang.

Since 2008, China has been expanding its 9-year compulsory education system to cover the whole country. Still, education in rural areas continues to lag behind in quality due to less investment, and the gap is widest at the preschool stage, according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

So far, most counties in China had failed to increase investment in education to account for 4 percent of the local GDP, a goal that the Ministry of Education said should be achieved by 2012.

Shi Yaojiang, a professor at Northwest University, said Ningshan was a successful example to some extent, as it closed the urban-rural gap in education and curbed what is usually a high dropout rate in rural areas.

“Compared to rich counties’ successes in providing free education, the Ningshan reform is of greater social significance,” said Shi.

“Many poor counties were obsessed with building fancy offices while turning a blind eye to local education,” said Shi Ying, director of the Shaanxi Province branch of CASS.

“They should learn from Ningshan and focus more on long-term benefits, such as education.”

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