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Best Buildings in W China Are Schools

Wandering around in the Friendship Store for almost half a day, Wang Mingxin, a rural primary school teacher, pointed at a Haier French Door Refrigerator and made a decision. "I'll buy it," he said holding adequate money, his year-end bonus, in his hand.

It was the second day of the winter vacation. For Wang and other people in Yongning Town, Hui County, located in northwest China's Gansu Province, such a refrigerator is still a luxury item, partly because this appliance is less useful in winter.

"I must buy it sooner or later," Wang remarked. A few days later, Wang's son, who works in another region, will go home with his girlfriend. The refrigerator will win prestige for the family.

The fridge cost Wang more than 5,000 yuan -- almost equal to his savings for half a year. Only three to four years ago, his annual earnings were only 5,000 yuan (US$703). In rural areas where he resides entire families earned less than 10,000 yuan (US$1406) per year.

Although Wang is used to living frugally, the improvement of living conditions well reflects in this rural teacher's life. He has fitted up his house, bought necessary home appliances, and more importantly, won due respect and dignity.

The primary school where Wang works has made great strides. During recent years, multi-storied teaching buildings have replaced leaky buildings made of simple bricks and tiles. Previously rough playgrounds are paved by cement.

Several years' heavy investment by the Chinese government in education, to a great extent, has contributed to the increase of Wang's earnings as well as to the improvement of rural schools.

In 1998, Wang was a teacher in a community school, earning about 100 yuan (US$14.06) per month, and he never received his salary on time. During that period, even teachers in state schools were paid late.

Wang became a state schoolteacher in 1999. Although his salary increased in theory, the actual money he got was far less. Later, the county financial bureau paid the teacher's wages collectively and Wang received about 2,000 yuan (US$281.2) per month.

In 2006, China added the "free of charge" principle to its amended Compulsory Education Law. It stipulated: "students receive free tuition and extras during their compulsory education period. The Chinese government has established mechanisms to ensure adequate compulsory education funds for the compulsory education system." The law clarified that the government had incorporated a compulsory education budget completely into national finances.

In the same year, the Chinese government set the goal of eliminating "any tuition fees and extra charges for 49 million rural students in western areas during their compulsory education period starting in the spring in 2006; and the tuition fees and extra charges for all rural students in central and eastern areas during their compulsory education period as of 2007."

This regulation greatly altered the compulsory education situation in rural areas. An investigation and study into the implementation of the Compulsory Education Law, conducted by the National People's Congress, showed that China has basically realized the goal set in 2006.

In the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held in 2007, Qiang Wei, secretary of Qinghai Provincial Party Committee, stated: "98 percent of the country's Qinghai children are enrolled in the school. Such a high rate even surpasses some western regions in the United States."

"Now the best buildings in western regions are usually schools," smiled Shang Lifu, the secretary-general of Beijing Western Sunshine Rural Development Foundation.

At the Two Sessions (National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) in 2007, Premier Wen Jiabao presented two "educational gifts" in the governmental work report: to increase the national financial allocation in student grants and scholarships from 1.8 billion yuan (US$0.25 billion) in 2006 to 9.5 billion yuan ( US$1.24 billion) in 2007, and to 20 billion yuan (US$2.81 billion) in 2008; to gradually resume the free of charge policy for students majoring in education and starting this policy in six normal universities directly under the Ministry of Education.

In1993, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council promulgated China's Education Reform and Development Outline, setting the target of "the national fund allocated in education should be 4 percent of the GDP".

"To realize the goal of 4 percent, local governments should invest more in education and coordinate with the central finance bureau," said Zhang Shaochun, the vice minister for the Ministry of Finance.

In 2006, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance co-established a "4 percent research group" to make a long-term plan to ensure adequate educational investment.

Education stands as the first priority among other goals to improve people's living conditions in the government report of the 17th National Congress.

"Education is in its best development time," stated Wang.

(China Development Gateway by Sun Wan March 5, 2008)

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