Since China adopted the policy of reform and opening up in 1978, rural education has witnessed great development. By the year 2000, China had basically realized the goal of popularizing the nine-year compulsory education system, and reached an average of eight per-capita education years, exceeding the world average.
Despite these achievements, rural education in China is still generally weak. There are 431 counties throughout the country that haven't popularized the nine-year compulsory education system. In some rural places where compulsory education has been instituted, the level of education is still low and the foundation unstable. Problems such as students dropping out of school because of poverty, defaults in the payment of teachers, and ramshackle schoolhouses that have fallen into disrepair over the years still exist in quite a number of places.
The salient problems in rural education have commanded widespread attention from all of Chinese society. China held the first National Conference on Rural Education in September 2003, specially discussing the educational problems in rural areas. At the conference, it was decided that by 2007, the coverage rate of the nine-year compulsory education system in China's western region would increase to at least 85 percent, and the illiteracy rate of people between the ages of 15 and 50 would be lower than 5 percent
To achieve these goals, the state has greatly increased its investment in rural compulsory education. In 1997, the financing of rural compulsory education was 43 billion yuan (US$5.2 billion), accounting for 54.8 percent of the total investment in compulsory education that year. In 2003, the central financial allocation to rural compulsory education reached 109.4 billion yuan (US$13.23 billion), comprising 80 percent of the total funds for compulsory education that year. The situation of "rural education run by farmers" has basically been changed to "rural education run by the government."
To enable more children who have left school due to poverty to continue their studies, the central finance allocated in 2004 more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.21 billion) for special funds. As a result, 24 million rural students from poor families who were at the stage of compulsory education got free textbooks. The same year, the Central Government also allocated 6.8 billion yuan (US$822.25 million) of educational funds for the western region, with which 8,130 ramshackle school buildings were rebuilt and 2,364 boarding schools in rural areas were put under construction. In 2005, China will increase its financial commitments to help more students from rural, poverty-stricken families get an education. Poor students from 592 poverty-stricken counties will be provided with free textbooks, exempted from tuition fees and extra fees, and also given a living allowance. By 2007, about 30 million students from poverty-stricken families in rural areas will be totally exempt from tuition fees and extra fees, including textbook fees, and boarders will be provided with a living allowance.
(China.org.cn March 6, 2008)