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Earmark more funds for rural schools
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-06 09:11

A vast country with a formidably large population, China is always having to decide how to spend resources from sizable fiscal revenues on social undertakings.

We have put much emphasis on economic growth in the past decades. As a result, we have seen the economy develop by leaps and bounds. We have yet to see, however, our social undertakings develop at a similar pace.

One of those underdeveloped social undertakings is education, a sector that deserves more attention from policy-makers.

It is not that China's education has not developed fast or policy-makers do not highlight education.

By 2002, more than 90 per cent of Chinese children had received the nine-year compulsory education.

The nation, from the top leadership to the grassroots, has attached paramount importance to education.

"However poor we are, we should not hesitate to finance education" has become a national mantra.

What we urgently need is a change in how the money is invested in education.

Like the Chinese economy, China's education is fettered by a structural imbalance.

Urban education and higher learning have eaten off the better part of the fiscal revenues.

No doubt policy-makers value education, but only a balanced development mode can make that emphasis truly meaningful.

On average, rural residents above the age of 15 receive seven years of education, an average of three years less than their urban peers of comparable ages. The ratio of rural residents receiving college education or above is 13 percentage points lower than people in urban areas.

China boasts 200 million primary and junior middle school students, with 90 per cent of them living in rural areas. In contrast, 78 per cent of the expenditure for rural compulsory education is shouldered by county-level revenues, or farmers' taxes, which account for only 20 per cent of the national revenues. The central coffers provide only 2 per cent.

Now that China is scrapping the agricultural tax in more provinces, it will become more difficult for deflated local coffers to finance compulsory education.

In a sense, the government is responsible for increasing investment so that schools in rural areas can keep running and are accessible for the children.

The Compulsory Education Law, which is under revision, needs to make the input from the government clear. The government should be made legally bound to invest more in education.

China's fiscal input in education is 3.28 per cent of its gross domestic product, a ratio lower than that in most of the world's developing countries.

Increasing spending in education is a must.

However, the crux of the issue does not lie there. The government has decided to increase the input gradually and continually and raise the ratio to 4 per cent by 2007.

The commitment is serious. We need not worry about the scale of educational funding in coming years.

The real problem is how to distribute that growing pile of educational funding.

Education benefits more than just the students. It benefits the nation by promoting sustainable economic growth and social progress.

In this sense, it is often taken as a public good, or at least a quasi-public good.

China's development will be incomplete if rural areas of the country do not catch up with their urban counterparts.

It was good to hear Premier Wen Jiabao promise yesterday morning to National People's Congress deputies that the government will improve its education investment mechanism and increase input for rural compulsory education.

A rural population with consistently lower levels of education would create a drag on our ambition to build a prosperous and harmonious society.

It is time for a change.

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