Mainland urged to focus on secondary schools

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am

China needs to target secondary school drop-outs now that it has achieved universal primary school enrolment, the head of Unicef's China operations said this week.

Despite impressive gains in primary education, with only two provinces recording enrolment rates less than 97 per cent, 2005 figures showed 27.3 million children aged six to 17 were not at school, Yin Yin Nwe said.

'I would say that China has made much more progress than other countries in increasing primary [enrolments] but drop-outs are still a big problem,' Dr Nwe said.

'At the junior secondary level the enrolment rates start going down and you have a higher drop-out rate. At the senior secondary level ... you get even more drop-outs.'

Speaking after the United Nations Children's Fund held a three-day, closed-door meeting in Hong Kong, Dr Nwe praised the government's commitment to education. But she said poverty was often to blame for children leaving school early.

'Parents need to be more aware before deciding that it would be better for the children to quit school and contribute to the family income,' she said.

Dr Nwe said the relevance of the education on offer also played a part.

'Unless the curriculum content is relevant to a child ... and the education helps them to get into meaningful jobs, parents probably will not give it much priority if they are cash-strapped,' she said.

The way children were taught could also make a difference.

Dr Nwe said it had been documented that higher drop-out rates occurred when children were not allowed to express themselves in school.

If the school was structured in a way that made learning fun, children were more likely to continue.

Dr Nwe said migrant children and those from very poor families remained the most vulnerable. While there was little information available on migrant children, Unicef was helping establish a data system to track these groups of children.

Unicef is also working with the government on improving the quality of education and the curriculum to ensure that gender stereotypes are not perpetuated in the classroom.

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