Closure of schools is a harsh lesson

Updated: 2012-06-07 07:52

By He Na (China Daily)

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Possible solutions

"The situation in Wangzhuangtou is the same as that facing many of the estimated 150 million rural schoolchildren. In some mountainous areas in Yunnan and Gansu provinces, pupils have even greater difficulty getting to school," said Professor Yuan Guilin, an expert on rural education at Beijing Normal University.

"The boundary of responsibility, as to who is in charge of the route to school is vague and as long as no big accidents occur, no one takes any notice. A well-defined supervisory mechanism should be introduced to oversee school closures in rural areas. And that mechanism must be enforced by the upper levels of government to ensure that it's adhered to," said Yuan.

Xiong Bingqi agreed, and suggested carrying out a review and inspection of the closures and reintegration of rural schools as soon as possible. In places where students face difficulty getting to school, the government should look at the local conditions and work out ways to solve the problem. Some schools that were forced to close against the will of the local people should be reopened, he said.

"The accidents that caused the deaths of children have saddened every Chinese person. It is the government's responsibility to guarantee the safety of our students on the way to school. Their safety should be placed above everything. If we have even one penny in our pockets, it should be spent on education," he said, adding that more buses would result in fewer boarding schools, which would alleviate concerns that a lack of parental contact is leaving the children more susceptible to psychological problems.

Yuan Guilin suggested that the authorities should enlist the aid of society in general to solve the problem. "Government at different levels should guarantee bank loans to companies that want to purchase qualified school buses to lease to transport companies. Those companies could then provide registered services to students. The students would have to pay a monthly fee, but it would only be a fraction of the full cost, and the lion's share could be paid by the government as a travel subsidy," he suggested.

Yuan also proposed using the model established by Shicheng village in Hainan province where the village committee combined a school, a library, an agricultural technology training center and a rural activity center in the same building. What functions as a school by day becomes a local activity center in the evening.

Wu Zhihui, director of the Institute of Rural Education at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, the capital of Jilin province, also called for county-level governments and related education departments to establish a hearing and public review system so that students, parents, village committees and teachers can discuss ways of providing a better service.

"Those schools that haven't closed or merged should continue to improve the quality of teaching and also carry out research, experimenting with smaller class sizes, which is the generally adopted model in developed economies. It would be an ideal program for China's primary and middle schools in the future," he said.

The Ministry of Education has already acknowledged the problems caused by the enforced closure of rural schools and said that a modified policy will be announced soon. "I hope it will improve the situation and make the students' road to education much smoother," said Yuan.

Han Junhong contributed to this story.

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