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China to spend 4 pct of GDP on education
Updated: 2006-02-28 20:07

China aims to raise spending on education to 4 percent of GDP from 2.7 percent, its education minister said on Tuesday, as it focuses on improving rural schooling to stem a gap with wealthier coastal areas.

Education Minister Zhou Ji said the 11th five-year plan, which will be formally approved during China's annual session of parliament opening on Sunday, would emphasise strengthening the quality of teaching in the countryside and eliminating fees to make classes more accessible.

"We will deepen and improve the reform of the funding guarantee system for rural compulsory education and establish a long term financial guarantee system for it," Zhou told a news conference.

China has nine years of compulsory education, but fees levied by cash-strapped local governments in poor areas put primary education beyond the means of many rural families.

To address that, from this year primary school students in western provinces would be exempt tuition and other fees, and the policy would be broadened to central and eastern provinces by 2007, Zhou said.

Textbooks would also be free in poor areas.

Zhou condemned the levying of arbitrary school fees, and said more than 700 head teachers had been fired since an investigation into the practice began in 2003.

"Even though the input into education is insufficient, charging unreasonable fees is still not justified and should be stopped," he said.

Improving the quality of teachers in rural areas was key to bringing education standards there in line with urban centres, Zhou said, adding that more graduates would be encouraged to teach in rural areas and teachers' pay would be brought into line with that of civil servants.

"We are fully aware there is a gap between quality of teachers and the expectations of the public," he said.

But local governments already face a heavy burden in funding their share of the expenditure for compulsory schooling.

Rural schools owe their teachers more than 10 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) in back pay and failure to pay teachers' salaries has contributed to the severe shortage of qualified teachers in the countryside.

Annual revenue in one county in the poor, northwestern province of Gansu was enough to cover only one month's salary for its permanent teachers and public servants, state media has reported.

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