The Chinese government is looking to raise education standards by making access to high schools easier and more affordable. The focus of such reforms has fallen squarely on the "underdeveloped" provinces of the country's west — including Yunnan — where enrollment and graduation rates sometimes lag far behind those of schools on the east coast.
Even official statistics sometimes vary as to how many teenagers nationwide receive a "senior secondary" education or, in other words, attend high school. National statistics released by the Ministry of Education (MOE) say 87.5 percent of public high school-aged students who qualify to move up a grade actually enroll for their next year's studies.
The new 'Guidelines for Popularizing High School Education' released recently by the MOE look to raise that number to 90 percent everywhere by 2020. While a 2.5 percent increase would not necessarily represent a huge jump nationwide, in poor or remote areas, boosting enrollment standards to nearly 90 percent may involve the majority of high school-eligible kids.
The plan calls for more spending, especially in nine regions tagged by Beijing as "prone to poverty". These areas, according to the guidelines, include large swathes of central and western China. Schools in such places that enroll large numbers of minority students will receive government-sponsored aid on a per-child basis, as will those catering to disabled pupils or those from migrant families. No mention has yet been made as to how much individual stipends will be worth.
Additionally, the strategy calls for renovating schools in poor locales, expanding access to computers and other technology, and building new facilities in areas experiencing upsurges in population. For example, a pilot program launched last year in Xinjiang provides funding for large-scale apartment developments to include high schools in their blueprints.
Teacher training has also been labelled a priority, as high school class sizes in low income schools are often enormous. In Guangxi — an autonomous region with 46 million inhabitants — 13,000 new teachers are needed simply to conform to government class limits. Some of the relief, in Guangxi and elsewhere, will also come in the form of alternatives such as vocational training schools.
Commenting on the need for robust change, educator Ma Dacai told China Daily the new guidelines will help his students catch up to their east coast counterparts. He is a high school principle in Yunnan's Nujiang, a prefecture long-known as one of the province's poorest. Ma's concerns echo those voids Beijing is looking to fill, which he explained thusly:
Take my school as an example. Our computers, library and teachers are not as good as those in Shanghai. What's worsening the situation is that some students cannot afford the charges for schooling because their parents have financial difficulties [due to] long-term poverty.
All of these reforms are aimed at making high school instruction in China "fair, high quality and diverse", according to Minister of Education Chen Baosheng (陈宝生). He named those three qualities on April 24 at a national education meeting held in Chengdu. His goals are lofty, and bureaucrats, administrators and teachers have only two and half years to complete them.
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