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Xinhua Insight: China's urbanization drive shrinks rural classrooms

English.news.cn   2013-12-21 16:42:03            

NANCHANG, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- Migrant worker Luo Yongping finally managed to secure a seat for his son at a reputable primary school in Nanchang, the city where he has toiled for nine years as a carpenter.

In September, the boy was crammed into an overcrowded first grade classroom at the primary school affiliated with Nanchang University in Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province.

"Whatever the cost, I would help my son lead a better life than mine -- specifically, better schooling and better work in the city," said 32-year-old Luo, who lamented the divide in education between urban and rural areas.

"I myself was not well educated, and that's why I can only find backbreaking jobs here," he said.

Luo is representative of a growing number of Chinese migrant workers who have opted to bring their children to the city for quality education, rather than leaving them behind in the countryside.

However, the transfer of children to cities has led to losses of students for rural schools.

Located 35 km away from Nanchang, the Dazhuang Village Primary School in Luo's hometown has seen the number of its students more than halved in the past four years, according to principal Xiong Guilian.

With 22 students now, the school has been officially downgraded to a "teaching spot" that only covers the first three grades. Most rooms in the two-story schoolhouse are left unused.

"Every time a new semester started, I would find several children missing because they were taken to the town or city by their parents," Xiong said, describing her feeling at the time as "bittersweet."

In Jinqiao township, which administers Dazhuang Village, the number of primary school students has plummeted by two-thirds since 2003, with two village schools closed due to a lack of pupils.

Investigations by Xinhua reporters found a great many rural primary schools in Jiangxi, Hubei, Henan and Guizhou provinces are facing similar predicaments, as some "teaching spots" have fewer than 10 students.

A 2012 report on rural education, issued by the 21th Century Education Research Institute, said between 2000 and 2010, an average of 63 primary schools, 30 teaching spots and three junior high schools disappeared every day in China's rural areas.

Vigorous urbanization is behind the vanishing schools. Government data showed the country's urbanization rate surged by 12.39 percentage points from 2000 to 2012, indicating more than 150 million farmers moved to urban areas over the period.

Migration to towns and cities might become easier for rural surplus labor in the future, as a high-level work conference that concluded last week pledged to push forward urbanization by enabling migrant workers to obtain urban status, allowing them to integrate better into cities.

"Most Chinese farmers believe that knowledge can change one's destiny, so they would move heaven and moon to get education opportunities for their kids," said Du Xingsheng, principal of the central primary school of Jinqiao township.

The loss of students has further weakened rural schools, which are already at a huge disadvantage compared to their fully resourced and staffed urban counterparts, as more students usually mean more investment from the government.

At a teaching spot in Sanwan Village, Jiangxi, 13 students from the first to third grades share one teacher, Wang Jiafu. Music, English and computer classes are absent from their curriculum, since Wang is still struggling to teach all "basic subjects."

"What I'm concerned about most is that no young teacher will take on my job after I retire," said 58-year-old Wang.

In addition to the urbanization drive, another factor contributing to the sharp decline of rural students is a massive government-backed campaign since 2001 to close or merge small rural schools in order to centralize resources and improve education quality, according to Professor He Yue with the Yunnan Normal University.

After their schools were shut down, many children in remote areas dropped out because attending the new school far away from their homes would require a much longer and more dangerous commute. The Ministry of Education suspended the controversial program in November last year.

Since China's urbanization is in full swing, the decrease of rural population is an irreversible trend, said Professor Wang Feng, a consultant to the provincial education department of Jiangxi.

Wang suggested the government roll out measures to attract qualified teachers in rural areas by offering them more financial subsidies and improving their living and work conditions.

"Without good teachers, we can't talk about how to secure students," Wang said.

In 2013, the central government allocated about 800 million yuan (132 million U.S. dollars) in education funds for Jiangxi, and the vast majority of the money was designated for rural schools.

Hou Tiejun, an official with the provincial education department, said the massive investment in rural education should be used to upgrade teaching facilities and train teachers, rather than being squandered on infrastructure projects, such as school building construction.

In recent years, local education authorities have been promoting the use of multimedia devices and online resources in rural schools, hoping the move could help bridge the yawning urban-rural gap in education.

"That should be a focus in our future educational spending," Hou said.


China's urbanization stumbles over hukou

NANCHANG, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- When Zhan Anxiang bought an apartment in his county seat in east China this year he became entitled to a non-agricultural "hukou" (household registration), but has no interest in a change.

"If my hukou status changed, what would I do with my land?" asked Zhan, a farmer from Luojiatang village in Jiangxi province. Full story


Editor: Fu Peng
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