Many rural pupils cheated of their right to schooling
Josephine Ma in Beijing
Survey finds counties struggling to fund nine years of compulsory education
A large number of students in rural areas have been denied proper schooling despite pledges by government leaders to provide nine years of compulsory education, a study has found.
The study by the Central Party School, which covered 15 provinces, found the number of students receiving nine years of education was much lower than government statistics suggested.
Although the study could not provide an overall dropout rate, it suggested that the figure could have reached as high as 10 per cent in some areas, the China Youth Daily quoted the study as saying yesterday.
The government claimed it had provided 'free' education to 2,598 counties, or 90 per cent of the total, by 2002. It has also set a target of providing nine years of compulsory education to more than 85 per cent of children in western provinces by 2007.
However, the survey said that local officials had exaggerated enrolment figures and went on to suggest that in some areas, rural children were often left unattended once the school inspectors had departed.
'In some schools, children whose names appear on the enrolment list don't study in the school,' Pan Yunliang of the Central Party School was quoted by the China Youth Daily as saying.
'Some schools sell junior secondary graduation diplomas to students even though they have never studied there. In some cases, schools borrowed students from elsewhere to fill up the classrooms when the inspectors came.'
Compulsory education is not free in rural areas, as it is in towns and cities, and students have to pay for a variety of items.
Many rural county governments have plunged heavily into debt to foot the bill for compulsory education.
Fifty counties surveyed by government auditors in 2003 had outstanding loans of 2.38 billion yuan to fund education in 2001. That figure jumped by 30 per cent to 3.1 billion yuan in 2002 and rose another 25.7 per cent to 3.89 billion yuan in 2003.
The Central Party School report said the increase in loans was a result of pressure on local governments to meet the requirements of inspections. Because of the lack of funds, there was a serious shortage of teachers and many schools used unqualified substitute teachers to reduce payrolls.
It attributed the problem to the lack of central government funding for rural education. It estimated an extra 63 billion yuan would be needed to achieve compulsory education nationwide.
The report proposed the central government pay the salaries of rural teachers. It said the central government would have to set aside only 2.3 per cent of its annual budget in 2002 to pay for the salaries of 3.8 million primary school teachers and 2.3 million secondary school teachers in the countryside.