Education head takes flak over mammoth ministry's failures

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2008, 12:00am

The mainland's mammoth Ministry of Education, which has been blamed for skyrocketing college tuition fees and a growing divide in access to basic education, was punished yesterday with minister Zhou Ji receiving the most 'No' votes of the 27 ministers at the National People's Congress meeting.

Mr Zhou could be seen fleeing from a mob of reporters at the Great Hall of the People after 384 of the 2,942 NPC deputies voted against his appointment.

According to NPC deputy Chen Dingchang, who is also the principal of Hubei's Huanggang Secondary School, the ballot results demonstrated that 'the public expects more from authorities in charge of education'.

'The improvement of higher education should be included in the overall planning for a harmonious society,' Mr Chen said. 'A huge volume of work still needs to be done to secure basic education for all.'

Although he declined to say if he voted against Mr Zhou, Mr Chen did say that he 'followed his heart' in casting his ballot.

Along with inadequate medical services and rising housing prices, soaring university fees and widening inequality in access to basic education top the list of major concerns for citizens.

Beijing Institute of Technology professor Yang Dongping said the public view of the education sector, particularly among rural residents, had improved in the past year or so as a result of a drive for broad-based, free compulsory education and wider access to financial aid for university students.

'But the large number of no-confidence votes for Mr Zhou is a reflection of public perception of the ministry and the whole education sector,' Professor Yang said.

Citing a recent public outcry over a ministry plan to introduce Peking Opera into the curriculum for primary school pupils, Professor Yang said the ministry had not done a good job 'to introduce democratic and scientific decision-making procedures'.

He said the ministry, which had been given greater authority following a State Council reshuffle, could no longer disregard public voices.

Two other major central government bureaucracies, which have been criticised for inadequate responses to January's snowstorms across central and south China, were also punished in the ballot.

Liu Zhijun , who has held the reins of the Ministry of Railways since 2003, came second from bottom with 211 'No' votes, while Ma Kai, who used to head the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), came third with 117 'No' votes in his election to become a State Councillor.

Additional reporting by Ng Tze-wei