Premier Wen Jiabao has hit out at the aggressive closures of rural schools in a speech ahead of today's Teachers' Day that addresses the sorry state of rural education.
The problem could hinder the development of the whole country, he warned.
Many village-level schools have closed down because of falling enrolments caused by rapid urbanisation, with pupils transferring to supposedly better-resourced township and county schools.
However those schools often struggle to cope with the extra students because they lack sufficient facilities, including larger dormitories and canteens.
The closures controversy was underscored by a China Youth Daily report in July about more than 100 villagers in the town of Dayang in Zhejiang's Jinyun county getting on their knees in front of reporters to ask for help to keep a newly built township school open.
Villagers said that if the school was forced to close, hundreds of children would have to go to schools up to 40 kilometres away.
'If our children drop out of school because their schools are closed or because the other schools are too far away to attend, such measures would go against what our policies were designed for,' Wen said.
Professor Chu Zhaohui, of China National Institute of Educational Research, said that the premier's broadside should prompt regulators to reflect on a policy often executed with overkill.
In the speech published by the People's Daily yesterday, Wen said that to raise the level of schooling in a country, priority had to be given to the education of the rural population.
He also highlighted two other pressing issues for regulators: the lack of care for more than 20 million rural children left behind by city-bound migrant worker parents and lack of access to quality teaching faced by children from migrant families who accompany their parents to the cities.
While reaffirming a central government policy that says the authorities in places where migrant workers reside have the primary responsibility of providing migrant children with schooling - primarily at public-funded schools - Wen promised to improve schools catering to migrant children by offering more funding.
He urged regulators to speed up the policymaking process to allow students to sit major exams in their places of residence instead of being forced to return to their hometowns as required by the household registration regime, known as hukou.
Tian Kun, a lawyer who advises the migrant community on welfare issues, said the premier had laid out guidelines to address their plight but whether they would benefit was down to lower-level government action.
'We need to ask if the authorities in Beijing have acted sensibly in their forced closure of schools for migrant children across the board without differentiating their level of teaching, safety and hygiene standards,' he said.
rural children are left behind when parents go looking for work in the cities