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Equal Opportunities for Quality Education

International investors will all no doubt say that, for them, the main attraction of China is not its weather, not its land, most of which is mountainous, and not its rapidly declining natural resources. It is the human resources that are driving the nation's staggering rise in industrial power.

More importantly, it is not just cheap labour that is working the magic. It is skilled labour that is driving the engine of change.

Last year, for example, China had more than 2 million graduates from tertiary education, and another 3.5 million graduates from vocational schools.

But the figures alone are still not good enough, according to deputies to the National People's Congress and members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. They told the government so at their annual sessions which closed on Monday in Beijing.

Despite unprecedented developments in education in the era of reform, it was still a frequent subject for debate among the lawmakers.

They exposed and criticized many problems in the development of education, which trouble, if not anger, the public.

One of the most glaring problems is that in China's vast rural areas, there are still children who do not have access to even the most basic education. And elsewhere, even if they have access, the facilities available for them are still a far cry from those in the cities.

Education is undoubtedly the long-term lifeline of citizens. Good education promotes more than personal well-being or the fulfillment of individual aspirations. As individual caliber grows, the nation will become stronger and more prosperous.

China boasts a long tradition of valuing education and Chinese parents are willing to save each and every penny to support their children's schooling. But in a nation of more than 1.3 billion people, upholding equal opportunity in the education sector is a daunting task.

The central government is dedicated to quickening the development of the cause. The latest promises came from Premier Wen Jiabao, who unveiled a batch of initiatives to solve educational problems in his government work report delivered to the NPC session.

The State will scrap rural school fees and subsidize children in poverty-stricken areas so they can all complete the nine-year compulsory schooling program.

The education of migrant workers' children, vocational education, the all-round development of students and the development of private schools were also highlighted in the premier's report on the government's work.

Although there are still more problems than the government can deal with at one time, the problem of inequality is arousing a great deal of public concern and certainly cannot be tolerated.

The crux of the issue lies in the amount of cash put into it. The central coffer simply does not give enough money to education considering its financial strength.

On the other hand, it is more than an issue of fiscal input. The unbalanced distribution of resources between rural and urban schools risks slowing down the future of China's vast rural areas, where two thirds of the population live.

Official statistics show that at the primary stage, there are a big number of rural students who drop out of school because they do not have the money to pay their tuition fees.

At college level, there have been some big increases in tuition over the last few years. So, some rural students have also been forced to abandon their dreams because of meagre family resources.

Equality in education is the hinge of the sustainability of our nation's economic progress. It has a big impact on every citizen's quality of life, so the government must do all it can do to achieve this goal.

(China Daily March 16, 2005)

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