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Fairness in Education Should Top the Agenda

The Party Chief of Hunan Normal University and former deputy director of Hunan Provincial Education Department said that fair and even provision of education should be the priority for all levels of education departments.

"The focus should not be on building flagship elementary schools with high entry requirements, especially in providing compulsory education. The higher education sector should also be developed in a more balanced way when possible," said Zhang Guoji.

Zhang said a great imbalance in standards exists between elementary schools in cities and the countryside, the key reason being the difference in capital input. As a result, qualified teachers are attracted from rural areas to towns and from counties to cities, so already disadvantaged schools become weaker.

Zhu Shangtong, former Party chief of the Hunan Provincial Education Department, agreed, saying that this had been a longstanding problem and something of an open secret.

Well known senior high schools in Changsha City charge fees as high as 15,000 yuan (US$1,812) and junior high schools as much as 12,000 yuan (US$1,449), and elementary schools are increasingly taking their lead. These kinds of fees exclude students who may be high achieving but are from low-income backgrounds.

More disturbingly, some former officials from Hunan educational departments said, basic principles of fairness have been completely lost in some places. Schools that used to enroll the children of people who held important posts in enterprises and gave them small bribes now collude with property developers, only admitting students whose parents purchase houses from them.

Zhang said fairness in education can only be realized when Party and government departments take concrete measures, such as arranging the funds and teaching staff necessary to those disadvantaged schools.

He said inequitable education results in children growing up to face unfair opportunities in employment and other areas, producing real social problems. In European and American countries, the issue of unequal education is viewed in this way. Fair provision of education is strategically important for a nation and for a rational and people-oriented concept of state administration.

Zhang refuted the idea that a lack of resources means that equal education is simply not possible yet, saying that conditions are already in place in the form of a booming economy, high demand and a decreasing birthrate.

He said the government should set down policies to rectify imbalances in the allocation of resources and how schools are funded. Appraisal methods should also be changed to focus on fairness.

Since last fall, the central government has taken measures to ensure greater fairness, including the allocation of 3 billion yuan (US$362.46 million) for construction of rural boarding schools, implementation of a "one-time fee" policy to curb arbitrary charges, allocation of 700 million yuan (US$84.57 million) for food allowances, free textbooks for over 24 million poor students in rural areas of middle and west China, and launching the "One College Student in Each Village" rural program to develop 4,963 young people through TV universities into sci-tech and management personnel.

( by Yuan Fang, February 5, 2005)

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