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CHEN Baosheng: Prioritizing children's education to break the intergenerational poverty cycle

2018-12-01 09:34:00

China is a populous developing nation where 20% of all children live in poor regions. Ensuring that these children are given the chance to grow and mature into healthy adults is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of central government and a core goal in our policies. In line with the analogy employed by President Xi about teaching someone to fish rather than just giving them a catch, effective measures must be introduced to guarantee that children from deprived regions receive good education. They will then be on an equal footing with their peers in the starting blocks of life, and have a fairer chance in the sprint towards a bright future. The Party and State Council steadfastly believe that children form the greatest asset to guarantee the future of the country, and have therefore launched an “education for poverty alleviation” campaign in order to place the children of rich and poor on a level playing field in their quest for individual success.

Significant progress in giving poor children equal access to education

A number of policy measures have been introduced and implemented to improve primary education in poor regions, which have led to remarkable progress acclaimed by children’s welfare organizations, such as UNICEF.

Firstly, more resources have been invested to improve the infrastructure of schools: recent years have witnessed the largest investment in schools in China’s compulsory education history, with a funding of 162 billion RMB from central government, and an additional 300 billion RMB from local governments, allowing the refurbishment of almost 220,000 rural schools. Three pre-school education action plans focused on improving the gross enrollment rate of rural and poor areas in central and western China have been implemented. In 2017, the gross enrollment rate at pre-school level was 79.6%, with more children from poor regions receiving early childhood education.

Secondly, prioritization of teaching body growth. Programs were launched aimed at raising the level of qualifications of teachers in rural areas and incentivizing their dedication to education in the countryside. Ad hoc teaching posts, in addition to regular budgeted posts, were created for schools in under-developed provinces. Since 2012, 355,000 college graduates have been recruited to fill these posts in over 30,000 schools. In addition, free education is available for normal university students in 28 provinces who are willing to teach in rural schools upon graduation. Under this program, 41,000 graduates have gone on to work in rural areas every year.

Thirdly, large scale intervention plans have been implemented to improve nutrition for students in poor areas. The National Development Program for Children from Poverty-Stricken Areas 2014-2020 was introduced to provide policy safeguards for improving children's health, nutrition and education. In total, more than 37 million students studying in 140,000 rural schools in 1,596 counties have benefited from nutrition improvement plans.

Fourthly, a support system covering all students from disadvantaged backgrounds at all levels of education has been established to alleviate the financial burden on poor households. Children from deprived backgrounds, orphans and disabled children can now benefit from full bursaries to attend kindergartens. Tuition and books are fully reimbursed, and living allowances are provided for poor students in compulsory education. Tuition-free education is provided for poor students in senior high and vocational schools, rural students studying in vocational schools, and students studying agriculture-related programs. National scholarships have been introduced for high school students, while national scholarships, grants and loans are provided for students in higher education.

Finally, access to education has been substantially expanded. Universities across the country have been implementing special plans to recruit students from rural and poor regions, and enrolment has expanded at an annual rate of 57% to 103,800 students.

Meanwhile, it must be noted that for all the efforts made by the central government, educational imbalances still exist between rural and urban areas and between the more prosperous coastal provinces and western regions. Children from poor regions report lower scores on the human developmental index than the national average. Weaknesses in rural education remain to be addressed. Challenges abound in giving every disadvantaged child equal care and access to equitable and quality education.

Continuing to prioritize education of children from poor backgrounds

Children embody the wellbeing of a family and the hope of a nation. We believe that early childhood education can make or break a child's chances for future success and that education is the most effective way to break the intergenerational poverty cycle and promote social equality and justice. We will continue to prioritize education of children from poor backgrounds, ensure balanced distribution of resources to rural and urban schools, and speed up the creation of a state-funded basic education service network benefiting all students. 

Firstly, we will strive to achieve full enrollment of children in schools whilst continuing to improve enrollment at all levels of education, and provide children from poor regions with more accessible, more diversified and better education. Our focus will be on developing rural preschool education by putting in place a fully functional public service network that covers all preschoolers. Greater effort will be invested in rebalancing the distribution of educational resources among rural and urban schools, and introducing safeguards to prevent students dropping-out, including free boarding for students from rural and remote areas and subsidies to students from poor backgrounds. 

Secondly, we will make sure that rural schools, especially those in remote regions, meet the same standards as those in urban areas in terms of basic infrastructure, with adequate teaching equipment and supplies, learning materials, as well as boarding and dining facilities. We will continue to build a stronger rural teaching body, capable to teaching multiple subjects to cover the shortfall in staff in poor areas and to improve teaching quality.

Thirdly, we will continue to expand distribution of quality educational resources in poor regions. High-achieving schools will be mandated with support to rural schools, including secondment of teachers and headmasters, administrative support and targeted assistance. ICT will be used to disseminate quality teaching resources from urban schools to rural students.

Fourthly, we will continue to provide support to children from disadvantaged backgrounds to boost their chances of success. The Special Education Action Plan will be further implemented to protect the rights of children with disabilities to access education. Measures will include providing one-on-one coaching at home, integrating these children into in regular classrooms, and providing them with support for their studies while they are undergoing medical treatment. As urbanization picks up pace in China, special attention will also be paid to children left behind in rural areas by migrant parents working in cities, especially to their academic progress, health and psychological wellbeing.   

We will continue to work with the international community on poverty alleviation and early childhood development to create better conditions for the healthy growth of children, laying the groundwork for their lifelong development.

(Note: This is a translation of an article by CHEN Baosheng, Minister of Education of the People's Republic of China.)

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