School closures causing villagers to leave
Updated: 2012-07-25 08:10
By Cheng Yingqi (China Daily)
Langdonggou is typical of rural villages in Yanchi, the Ningxia Hui autonomous region - the residents are either older than 60 or younger than 6.
Villager Zhu Yaoshan said the young people leave the arid land to make a living in cities.
But now people are also leaving for another reason. Ever since the only primary school in the village was merged with a school in a town 10 kilometers away, children have had to board at school.
The parents of the students, worried about the young children alone in the town, are leaving the village to be closer to them.
"Before the village school closed, some young people used to stay. Now they have all moved out for the children's schooling," Zhu said.
Between 2002 and 2010, the number of primary schools in China shrank 44 percent from 456,900 to 257,400, while the number of new enrolments only decreased 13.37 percent, according to statistics from the Ministry of Education.
The shrinking number of schools is a result of a policy to close rural schools and centralize students in county schools. However, this policy may be revised.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Education published an adjustment proposal on its website to solicit public opinion.
The proposal said the centralizing of the school network had resulted in long commutes for many children, led to an increase in traffic safety hazards and put a financial burden on parents. It also suggested local authorities reopen some remote schools that had been shut down.
From July 22 to Aug 6, comments and advice will be received at the ministry's e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The central government abolished agricultural tax, so government bodies below county level do not have the income resources to support public schools," said Yuan Guilin, an expert on rural education at Beijing Normal University.
"As a result, county governments took over the management of public schools. Since the county governments have rather limited manpower, they had to centralize the schools for the convenience of management.
"The changing management system of public schools is the primary reason China has closed rural schools."
But the policy was challenged when a string of road accidents involving rural students and preschoolers in late 2011, raised questions about children being forced to take long commutes to get to school.
"It is good for the ministry to recognize the wrong policy and try to reopen some schools, but I do not think it is necessary to build new schools because the number of school-aged children is decreasing," Yuan said.
The government could use existing activity centers in rural villages as schools, Yuan said.
Zhang Yutang, 63, a retired professor of education from Sichuan Normal University, said even if local authorities can find a proper place to reopen schools, they are not likely to find teachers.
"Take the city of Chengdu for example. A teacher earns nearly 4,000 yuan ($626.27) a month working in downtown schools, while in the outer areas only one hour drive away, the salary is barely 2,000 yuan," Zhang said.
"What the government should do is not building modern school buildings in rural villages, but increasing rural teachers' pay."
(China Daily 07/25/2012 page4)