Providing better compulsory education for China’s rural children
The report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) set forth the goals that we must work towards in the years ahead. These goals include completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the time the Communist Party of China celebrates its centenary (2021); and turning China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, and harmonious by the time the People’s Republic of China marks its centennial (2049). In addition to completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects, the report also proposed the goal of deepening China’s reform and opening up in an all-round way.
These targets have provided us with a clear direction for the reform and development of education. In the first meeting of the newly elected Party leadership with the Chinese and foreign press, General Secretary Xi Jinping listed better education as the first of seven major public expectations. Moreover, Premier Li Keqiang also highlighted the establishment of a safety net that covers all the people and ensures their basic wellbeing, including education, during the first full session of the State Council. Therefore, in order to meet these new expectations, more will be required of our initiatives in education.
Education and rural areas hold the key to achieving the goals established by the report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC, which include accomplishing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realizing the modernization of the country. In a certain sense, rural education can be viewed as the foundation for the rejuvenation of the nation, and the key to ensuring the wellbeing of the people.
As such, rural education has an important bearing on China’s overall social and economic development, and also on social fairness and justice. As the longest continuous stage of education that we attend, nine-year compulsory education lays down key foundations in our lives, having a decisive influence on our future and happiness. In China, rural schools account for over 85% of all schools providing compulsory education, while rural students account for more than 70% of students in compulsory education. Therefore, the provision of sound education in rural areas will ensure our success in the modernization of education by the year 2020. Rural compulsory education also represents a key link in the coordination of rural and urban development.
Only by providing fair and quality education for China’s hundreds of millions of rural children will we be able to narrow the development gap between urban and rural areas and safeguard social fairness. And only by doing that will we be able to train the talent we need to achieve the simultaneous progression of industrialization, IT application, urbanization, and agricultural modernization, and thereby complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
During a visit to Fuping County, Hebei Province, following the Eighteenth National Congress of the Party, General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “If we want the next generation to live a better life, we must educate them well. We need to deliver a good performance in compulsory education, so that our children can receive a quality education.” Therefore, the importance of compulsory education in rural areas is something that cannot be overemphasized.
In recent years, the Chinese government has carried out a series of large-scale, practical, and beneficial programs to promote the development of compulsory education in rural areas. By increasing expenditure, enhancing development, deepening reform, and improving mechanisms, we have been able to make significant advances with regard to the fairness and quality of rural compulsory education.
For example, free compulsory education has been achieved in all urban and rural areas; public expenditure per student in rural primary and middle schools has been increased by a significant margin; the central government and local governments have allocated more than 300 billion yuan in funding to improve the safety of school buildings, making school the safest place for children and setting parents’ minds at ease; since being launched in China’s most impoverished areas, schemes to provide better nutrition for rural students have already benefited more than 30 million students; the overall quality of the rural teaching workforce has been improved through several initiatives, namely, a plan to place university graduates in special teaching positions in rural schools in western regions, a national plan to train primary and middle school teachers, and a policy of free tuition for teacher-training students; and benefits for rural teachers have been improved through measures such as introducing performance-based pay, providing temporary housing at subsidized rates or for free, and reforming the accreditation system for teaching professionals. Owing to these efforts, we have managed to change the face of compulsory education in rural areas. Now, compulsory education in rural areas is showing new signs of sound development.
The universal coverage of nine-year compulsory education, which was achieved in 2011, has ensured that all children are able to attend school. But now that universal coverage has been achieved, what will our next goal be in the development of compulsory education? In fact, clear requirements for the development of compulsory education have already been set out in the report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC, the report on the work of the government, and at the first full session of the State Council. In other words, our next requirement is to promote the balanced development of compulsory education.
By balancing the development of compulsory education, not only will we guarantee that all children are able to attend school, we will also ensure that they are able to receive a quality education. Therefore, in accordance with the requirements of the CPC Central Committee, Party committees, governments, and related departments at all levels are required to view the balanced development of compulsory education as a strategic task, formulate clear roadmaps and timeframes for these initiatives, and ensure that the balanced development of compulsory education on a regional basis can be attained by the year 2020.
The balanced development of compulsory education embodies the expectations of the public for fair and quality education. For this reason, balancing the development of education is a more arduous and complex task than attaining the universal coverage of nine-year compulsory education. Efforts to promote the balanced development of compulsory education must begin in our vast rural areas. This is because China’s urban-rural gap, a result of the dualistic urban-rural structure that has emerged in China over the long term, has caused the development of education and other social programs to be the weakest in rural areas.
In ascertaining how well education has been implemented in any given local area, what we need to look at first is how well compulsory education has been handled. And in ascertaining how well compulsory education has been implemented, what we need to look at first is how well rural compulsory education has been handled. With the close attention and care of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, government expenditure on education was able to reach 4% of the GDP in 2012, standing in excess of 2 trillion yuan in total, or 20% of overall government expenditure for that year. This hard-earned result can be attributed to the efforts of Party committees, government authorities, and financial departments at all levels.
At present, the central government still views spending on education as fixed expenditure, even though our economic growth is coming under increasing downward pressure and the growth of fiscal revenue has declined significantly. Moreover, the government will continue to increase government expenditure on education, although it has also required that education funding must be used more effectively. These commitments bear testament to the special importance that the central government attaches to education.
This has also been the subject of significant public attention. Guided by a strong sense of responsibility and mission, Party committees and local governments at all levels must devote more energy to compulsory education in rural areas, increase the level of spending that goes to rural compulsory education, and ensure that this money is used where it is needed. By tilting government expenditure towards outlying poverty-stricken areas and ethnic minority areas, they must come to the aid of those in need, weave a solid safety net, address weak areas, provide basic guarantees, and promote fairness. During the current term of government, we must step up our efforts to improve conditions in schools offering compulsory education, raise the quality of education, and narrow the gap between urban and rural areas. Through these efforts, we must seek to achieve tangible change that can be felt by the public, and lay down solid foundations for the healthy development of hundreds of millions of rural children.
I. We will make continued efforts to improve nine-year compulsory education
The universalisation of nine-year compulsory education was a major undertaking that began with the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The results that we have gained in this regard have captivated the world. At present, the net enrollment ratio for primary school is 99.58%, the gross enrollment ratio for junior middle school is 102.1%, and the retention rate of nine-year compulsory education is 92%. In addition, the proportion of children dropping out of primary and junior middle school has dropped below 1% and 3% respectively, the red line set by the government.
However, the development gap between urban and rural areas in compulsory education is still considerable, with impoverished regions, outlying regions, and ethnic minority regions lagging even further behind. Some areas are only just managing to provide and maintain the provision of compulsory education for all children, and still have a great deal to do in order to bolster and build on what has already been achieved. Therefore, we cannot let up in our efforts just because we have achieved universal access to compulsory education.
In accordance with the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the Law on Compulsory Education, all children of the prescribed age must attend compulsory education, which should be obligatory, free of charge, and universal. The government is legally obliged to provide compulsory education, while parents are legally obliged to ensure that their children attend compulsory education. Despite these provisions, however, the problem of children dropping out of school is still present in certain regions. In the past, most school dropouts were the result of families experiencing financial difficulties.
However, the situation now is more complicated. A small number of parents, believing that school is pointless, force their children to leave school and find a job. In certain areas, some children drop out of school because the distance between school and home is too great. Some children drop out due to a lack of interest, while in some families, a lack of adequate supervision results in unattended children playing truant.
These problems demand a high level of concern. China’s outline for the reform and development of education states that the retention rate of nine-year compulsory education should reach 93% by 2015 and 95% by 2020. This is a binding and non-negotiable target that must be met. First, the responsibility of the government should not be reduced. The responsibly for controlling the drop-out rate should be assumed by the government in the place of schooling, and ensuring attendance in school should be integrated into the performance appraisals of local governments and education authorities.
Where a child drops out of school, the local government and related departments are obliged to arrange for that child’s return to school in the same area. Second, schools must be run practically and meticulously. Management in schools needs to be strengthened, teaching standards need to be improved, and schools should nurture students’ talents with a strong sense of responsibility. With regard to students who experience learning difficulties, or who play truant due to a lack of interest, schools should place an emphasis on stimulating their interest and building up their confidence in learning. Third, concerted efforts need to be made throughout society. Negligent parents should be urged to fulfill their responsibilities. Any and all cases involving the illegal employment of minors will be investigated and followed up resolutely. In addition, all sectors of society should be called upon to take various measures to reduce the number of vagrant children living on the streets, with a view to eradicating this phenomenon entirely.
In our efforts to bolster and improve the coverage of compulsory education in China, there are two groups that deserve special attention: children who move around with their parents, and children who stay behind in the countryside while their parents leave in search of work. Owing to their long-term separation from their parents, children whose parents leave the countryside in search of work often lack the care and affection that they need. In some cases, this may cause them to experience psychological, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems. Children who move around with their parents encounter difficulties getting into school and integrating into cities. Therefore, we need to show greater care for these children by engaging in a major effort to provide better access to education. Boarding schools should give priority to children whose parents do not live at home. Government-run schools in cities should offer more places to children that have moved into the city along with their parents. At the same time, we should put a social care and services mechanism in place to provide stronger mental and health guidance for these children. Through these efforts, we need to make our schools warm homes for children whose parents have left in search of work; we need to make our cities happy places to grow up for children who migrate with their parents; and we need to make our teachers the closest people that these children have, thereby ensuring that they are able to find interest in learning and live happily.
In line with the eight requirements of the CPC Central Committee with regard to improving styles of work and maintaining close ties with the people, the Ministry of Education should make plans to look back on the achievements that have been made in our effort to provide nine-year compulsory education for all. These activities should be carried out alongside efforts to promote the balanced development of compulsory education, alongside efforts to inspect and oversee education, and alongside efforts to encourage the involvement of various social sectors in the supervision of education. By looking back on what we have achieved, we will be in a better position to ascertain the current situation, identify problems, and take effective measures to solve those problems. In turn, this will allow us to effectively consolidate our achievements in the universalization of nine-year compulsory education and bring about new rises in the standard of compulsory education.