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Investing in our children

China Daily

Poverty should not necessarily mean falling behind.

Ningshaan, a poverty-stricken county in Northwest China's Shaanxi province, has put the economically developed regions to shame with its spending on free education for its children.

Its revenue was only 30.75 million yuan ($4.8 million) last year, compared with the 1.8 billion yuan income of Jinhu county of East China's Jiangsu province.

But the poor county in Shaanxi province spent 12 million yuan, nearly 40 percent of its revenue, on free 12-year compulsory education. This fall it extended its free education to 15 years in order to cover 2,040 kids aged from three to six in pre-schools.

Ningshaan is the first of the country's 592 poverty-stricken counties to offer 15-year compulsory education for free.

Even many economically developed areas have tightened their purse strings regarding spending on education. They should be ashamed in the face of Ningshaan's action.

As a matter of public policy, this is a no-brainer: Education is a significant factor in the development of children, communities and countries.

The Law on Nine-year Compulsory Education, which took effect in 1986, guaranteed children the right to receive at least nine years of education six years of primary education and three years of secondary schooling.

As a further example of the government's commitment to nine-year compulsory education, the State Council drafted a bill that made it illegal for any organization or individual to employ youths before they had completed their nine years of schooling. It also authorized free education and subsidies for students of families with financial difficulties.

When the National People's Congress convened in March 2009, some deputies submitted a proposal that China should make education compulsory for 12 years. However, the Ministry of Education responded by saying it wouldn't consider putting the extension on its agenda for the time being.

Scholars don't agree. They believe that China can do it now. They suggest the central government spend more money on education as soon as possible.

Better and longer education should be an essential part of a citizen's social welfare, especially for rural children who have been left behind for years.

China's future depends on how it prepares its rural children today. With more than half of the population living in rural areas, one of the nations' biggest strengths is its rural demographic. This promises a great future, as it will fuel consumption and spending. But the gap between urban and rural areas will widen if we don't invest heavily in rural education.

We need to upgrade our rural education and produce a higher skilled rural workforce.

Allocating a greater amount of the State budget to rural education will help propel the nation to the developed status.

The government must take the right decisions today to secure the future. If a poor county can do it, then surely the nation can.

(China Daily 10/11/2011 page8)