BEIJING, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- A new education policy issued early this month has enabled migrant worker Qin Lihong to make long-term plans for her family.
Qin finally decided to settle down in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, after living there for eight years, because the provincial government now allows children of migrant workers, like her daughter, to take the college entrance exam there even if they are not permanent residents.
Since different provinces adopt different textbooks and teaching and exam systems, having to take the entrance exam outside the province where the students have studied may put them at a huge disadvantage.
"Our household registrations are not in Qingdao, so our daughter would have had to take the exam in our hometown instead of here, which meant the whole family would have to move back for the exam," said the 32-year-old saleswoman at an electronic appliance store.
STAY OR GO?
Although Qin and her husband earn 5,000 yuan (794 U.S. dollars) per month on average, they like Qingdao, a prosperous coastal city.
"That's why we were always wavering between deciding to go home or stay here," she said.
Under the new policy, their daughter, who is currently in her fourth year of primary school, can continue her education in Qingdao without the trouble of transferring to another school.
In Shandong schools, the number of children from migrant families totaled 745,100 last year, a year-on-year rise of 17 percent.
"We adopted this policy hoping to improve the education equality among all students in the province," said Si Jingui, an official in charge of student affairs under Shandong's local education authority.
"People in China should enjoy equal rights and interests in terms of politics, the economy and culture, regardless of whether they live in cities or in the countryside," said Xie Chuntao, a professor with the Party School of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.
The report to the 18th CPC National Congress has pledged to safeguard social fairness and justice, as "fairness and justice are inherent requirements of socialism with Chinese characteristics."
The report said the CPC will work to establish, in due course, a system guaranteeing social equity featuring "equal rights, equal opportunities and fair rules for all," as well as foster a fair social environment and ensure people's equal right to governance participation and development.
TROUBLE FOR LOCALS
About 1,000 miles away from coastal Qingdao, 34-year-old kindergarten teacher Zhu Yingxiang works to promote equal access to education for another group of children -- local kids in rural areas of northwest China's Qinghai Province.
Zhu has only 30 students, aged three to five, and they all live in two villages in a mountainous area of Qinghai.
To ensure the children don't have to travel far for schooling, Zhu shuttles between the two villages to give preschool lessons, including folk song singing, storytelling and riddle solving, to the shepherds' children.
Zhu is among seven early education volunteers in Fengdui Township that teach over 100 preschoolers living in different villages.
"When the kids first came to the preschool lessons, they were shy about talking to strangers and could not speak Mandarin Chinese, which left them unable to communicate well with others," Zhu recalled.
"However, one year later, their creative and communication skills, as well as their motor skills, have been greatly enhanced," she said.
Qinghai launched a preschool education program for children in remote rural villages across the province in 2011, and 899 circuit preschool education centers have been established in 15 counties to date, covering 14,000 preschoolers in the province's countryside.
Over the past two years, central and local governments have invested 16 million yuan in the program, according to Lin Hai, an official with the local education authority.
The program is expected to close the preschool education gap between children in cities and those in rural and herding areas with backward transportation networks, Lin said.
Moreover, the official stressed that the circuit education centers are just a stopgap measure, and the government will work to build at least one kindergarten that is up to standards in each village.
"In addition to the financial strain, the major problem for now may be the lack of professional teachers," Lin said.
REFORMS FOR EQUITY
Tong Xin, a professor with Peking University's sociology department, considers equal access to education one of the essential factors for realizing social equity.
Equal access to education concerns both current and future generations in the country, and is an important "modulator" in society, as it addresses social imbalances and enables hard-working people to raise their status, she said.
China watcher Robert Lawrence Kuhn of the United States stressed that economic development remains China's top priority, "because only greater industrial capacity and higher enterprise productivity can provide the resources and funding for essential social programs."
However, he said the country also needs to quicken the pace of reform in political, economic and social arenas, and "it has now become, for China, more risky to delay reforms than to accelerate them."
The newly-elected leadership of China's ruling party has pledged to resolutely advance reforms.
Earlier this month, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, vowed "No stop in reform, and no stop in opening up," during a trip to south China's Guangdong Province.
The CPC should deepen reform in vital fields with more political courage and wisdom in a timely manner, he said.