Closure of schools is a harsh lesson

Updated: 2012-06-07 07:52

By He Na (China Daily)

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"To reduce expenditure on education, many village schools were forced to close even though many still provided a valuable service. Students were compelled to travel long distances to other schools. School buses and boarding facilities are not available, which has led to an increase in accidents involving (illegal) school buses, and a rise in the number of children dropping out," he said.

A difficult road

A number of accidents involving school buses have occurred in recent years. One of the most high-profile crashes happened in November when 19 children and two adults lost their lives in Zhengning county, Gansu province. The bus, designed to carry nine passengers, had been illegally refitted, the seats had been ripped out and the passengers were forced to stand during the journey. The bus was carrying 64 people when it collided with a coal truck.

"Whenever I think of the deep ditch my son fell into, the narrow dirt road that can only be used by one vehicle at a time and becomes so muddy when it rains that you can't even use a bike, plus the vagrants hanging around the fringes of the date forest hassling kids for money, I can't help asking myself why the road to school has to be so difficult," said Wang.

Cangzhou is famous for its dates and June is the month that date flowers blossom. A delicious odor greets those walking along the road, but the parents and children are so wound up that they don't even appreciate the smell anymore.

"The walls of my son's school have banners proclaiming, 'Doing everything for the children'. But is it just a slogan? The students were sent home when our village school closed in 2001, but no one bothered to inform us or discuss the matter, even the head of the village committee wasn't told about the decision beforehand. The local government did the same when deciding on the location of the new school," said a villager called Wang Shuwei.

The authorities said that the situation was being addressed: "The Ministry of Education will establish efforts to combat the phenomenon of blind closures and integration of rural schools. Guaranteed access to school is a very important precondition of enforced school closures. Schools should not be closed without consultation with parents and other interested parties," said Gao Hong, director of Department of Basic Education I of the Ministry of Education.

Traveling times double

Although Wang Shuwei's 9-year-old son has a sprained ankle, he still has to cycle to school because his parents simply don't have time to take him. "You know, sometimes I really hate myself because I don't have the money to send him to a school in the city. I know there are also poor people living in the cities, but at least their kids don't have to trudge through the mud to school everyday," said the frustrated father.

Transport is the villagers' biggest headache. Wang Hongyu is lucky, at least his grandma's village has a school, but most of the children have to travel 24 km a day to attend school, four 6-km journeys each way.

When the road is in poor condition, the traveling time doubles. "When it rains, the road becomes a muddy pool. Small kids often lose their shoes because the mud grips at their shoes and they can only free their feet. Bikes are useless on rainy days, so some parents carry their children to school on their backs. Older students have to make the decision to either walk for an hour or more, or simply be marked as absent," said Wang Yuxing.

Closure of schools is a harsh lesson 

Children from four other villages have to attend the primary school in Lu'anzhuang village, in suburban Cangzhou city in Hebei province. China has carried out the large-scale closure of rural schools since 2001 in response to a sharp decline in the numbers of school-age children in those areas. Photos by Cui Meng / China Daily