Education for Disabled Draws Unusual Attention amid Paralympic Fervor
As China is hosting the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, education for the country's 83 million disabled, believed to be a key to their career success and integration into the society, has received unprecedented attention from both the state leaders and general public.
When the country's 24th Teachers' Day fell on Wednesday, which was also the fourth day of the Beijing Paralympic competition, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited a deaf-mutes school in central China's Henan Province, praising the teachers there for bringing sunshine and hope to the disabled children with their love and hard work.
"The cause of education for disabled people deserved respect from the whole society," he said.
In the classrooms, the president told the students about the significance of the ongoing Beijing Paralympics, and encouraged them to build themselves a bright future with the help of the society and the teachers.
On the same day, an official disclosed that China has decided to allocate 600 million yuan (about US$87.7 million) to build 190 schools for the disabled this year.
The fund is 10 times the overall government subsidy for education for the disabled in the ten years from 1991 to 2001, according to Sun Xiande, deputy director-general of the China Disabled Persons' Federation.
Since the beginning of its reform and opening-up drive 30 years ago, China has remarkably improved its education system for people with disabilities, which covers fundamental education, vocational training, and higher education on and off campus.
By 2007, there were 1,667 schools dedicated to vision and hearing impaired and intellectually disabled children, while other schools also opened 2,803 classes exclusively for those kids, according to statistics from the China Disabled Persons' Federation.
A total of 580,000 disabled students were enrolled in 2007, compared with a mere 47,200 in 1986, said the federation.
And China's law on the protection of disabled persons has guaranteed their access to ordinary schools, including universities and colleges.
The amendment to the law, which took effect on July 1 this year, stipulated that local governments should provide free textbooks for disabled students during their nine-year compulsory education and also subsidize disabled students in high schools and colleges.
By 2007, nearly 20 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities had established local subsidy schemes for disabled college students.
Guan Yan, who works as a volunteer of language service during the Beijing Paralympics, has benefited from the development of education for the disabled.
The 36-year-old started to use a wheelchair at age 14 due to spondylosis. At first, she learned English by herself at home. In 1994, she went to study in the Dalian University of Foreign Languages, and two years later was accepted by the Beijing Foreign Studies University. She is now pursuing a master's degree in the Renmin University of China.
However, not every disabled person was as lucky as Guan.
Born in 1972 in north China's Hebei Province, Zhao Erbiao was disabled by poliomyelitis when he was just eight months old. With the help of crutches, he finished junior middle school but didn't continue his education.
"At that time, I believed I was mainly discouraged by the multi-storey building in the high school. The primary and junior schools I attended only had single-storey buildings," he said.
But now he found out that his own inferiority complex might have been the true reason behind his drop-out.
"I think I lost my faith in the future when some people told me that no college would accept me even if I could pass the admission examination," he admitted.
According to the China Disabled Persons' Federation, nearly 20,000 disabled students were studying in higher education institutions in 2007, a negligible number as against the country's total disabled population.
But in 2007 alone, 5,234 disabled persons were admitted to ordinary colleges and another 1,086 entered "special colleges" particularly for the disabled.
Jiang Xintian, a hearing impaired girl who won the Media Focus prize in the Miss China Universe pageant in 2003, said there is still a long way to go for China's education for the disabled.
"I hope the government and society will continuously push forward education for the disabled, and all members of the disabled community will cherish every opportunity to advance themselves," she said.
(Xinhua News Agency September 11, 2008)
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