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China Suspends Rural School Closures

China Daily, November 23, 2012 Adjust font size:

China has suspended closing or merging rural schools following a sharp decrease in pupil numbers because many dropped out.

Wang Dinghua, a Ministry of Education official, confirmed the suspension and said the department is reconsidering the layout of rural schools "in a more scientific manner."

Local governments should work out feasible plans of elementary and junior high schools in accordance with local conditions, Wang said, according to a report in Thursday's Beijing Times, which is run by the People's Daily.

Plans must be submitted to central authorities in charge of educational system reform before June, it said.

No closures or merges are allowed until a new plan comes out.

China urged rural schools to restructure or merge in 2002 in order to use resources better and distribute them more fairly.

An average of 63 rural primary schools and three junior high schools disappeared each day between 2000 and 2010, according to an NGO report issued by the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute (CERC).

Each hour, four rural schools disappeared, the report said.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of rural primary schools and junior high schools decreased by 229,400 and 10,600, or about 52 percent and 25 percent, respectively, it said.

The number of students registered in rural primary schools decreased by more than 31.5 million, while that for the junior high schools plummeted by 16.4 million.

Most of them entered schools in towns or cities, or simply dropped out.

Higher enrollment in urban schools and a decreasing birth rate in rural areas contributed to the decline, the report explained.

Therefore, the decreasing school age population prompted the authorities to close and merge rural schools.

However, overcrowded classes and a long commuting time remain a new problem for rural students, after closures or merges.

Many parents worried about safety on the way to schools and boarding conditions, particularly after a string of school bus accidents and food poisoning incidents that have occurred since 2011.

Out of these concerns, the educational ministry prohibited "blind" closures and mergers of rural schools in September.

The ministry requires that commutes should be limited within 40 minutes.

"Keep what should be kept. Students' demand is paramount," said Wang, adding school closures should undergo strict procedures, including asking for local opinion.

"If most villagers do not agree, the school should remain," Wang said.

In China's rural areas, many small, poorly-resourced schools exist.

In Chicheng County of north China's Hehei Province near Beijing, the Shuiquan Primary School once had 40 students. First to fifth grade students shared one teacher.

The educational quality was far below other schools, said a local official, adding there were no music, English or computer classes because of resources.

"The major difference of urban and rural education lies in the allocation of education resources," said a local official.

Chicheng, with a population of 292,000, had more than 400 schools 10 years ago. The number dropped to 104 last year, according to local government.

However, some parents were against the policy of closing down small-sized rural schools, as children drop out due to poor transport.

"The high rate of rural dropouts is alarming, as we feel China's nine-year compulsory education has already covered nearly all students (which was announced by the government years ago), and dropouts seem not a problem," said Xiong Bingqi, CERC's vice president.

"However, it is an illusion. We must not ignore the salient dropout problem," Xiong said.

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