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Push to School 6 Mln Illiterate by Year-end

The Ministry of Education pledged Monday to bring 6 million people living in the country's western regions out of illiteracy by the end of this year.

The undertaking is part of combined efforts by the central government and local authorities, the deputy director of the ministry's finance department, Tian Zuyin, said at a press conference in Beijing Monday.

"The country will continue to fight illiteracy by providing more financial support for the students from poverty families, and building more boarding schools in remote rural areas," Tian said.

The ministry and the National Development and Reform Commission have jointly invested 10 billion yuan (US$1.35 billion) to build boarding schools, with 580 million yuan injected by local governments between 2003 and this year, he said.

"The program covered 7,651 schools in 953 counties in western provinces, of which three were built 5,000 m above sea level, and 152 built 4,000 m above sea level," Tian said.

"At least 48.8 million students have benefited from the boarding school program this year, which is much higher than the record of 16.33 million in 2005," he said.

Tian also said that a total of 1,955 needy students have benefited from the free textbook policy, and more than 604 students in boarding schools were given financial aid this year.

Signs have so far been encouraging.

"The rate of enrollment for middle school has increased to 90 percent and the illiteracy rate of adults from 15 to 50 has continuously declined to 5 percent in the western regions in the past five years," Tian said.

In 2004, for example, the number of illiterates and semi-literates over 15 years in western regions was 9.02 percent of local residents, which was 2.3 percent higher than the domestic average level, ministry figures showed.

"Providing better educational infrastructure and financial support is still not enough, we need a group of excellent teachers to inspire and motivate students," Tian said.

To that end, at least 715 million yuan has been invested in training teachers and 17,000 top graduates from universities were employed to teach in western provinces this year, Tian said.

(China Daily November 27, 2007)

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