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China : Background

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The world’s most populous nation is making great strides towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals. Yet, while China is on track to achieve its education goal of universal access to compulsory education ahead of the target year of 2015, a number of major obstacles remain before children’s rights to complete their schooling and receive a quality education can be fulfilled.

The Chinese Government has embarked on a new Five-Year National Development Plan, which calls for greater focus on the rights of children plus new investment in health and education. China’s goal is to provide nine years of compulsory education for every child and to eradicate illiteracy. It has already taken significant steps in this direction, such as allocating special funds for schools in poor and minority areas, especially in western China. But significant challenges remain. Children drop out of school each year because of poverty and because educational quality is low. School completion rates for girls in some parts of China are lower than for boys due to gender attitudes, and children of migrant families face severe challenges in completing their basic education.

In September 2006, the Government of China announced that it would provide nine years of free compulsory education to all rural school-aged children by the end of 2007. The Central Government announced that it would implement this policy by covering 80 per cent of rural students’ tuition fees and “Miscellaneous Fees,” with Provincial Governments covering the remaining 20 per cent. The Government also declared that it would ensure free textbooks for every rural student.

However, even with the Central Government’s renewed commitment, there will still be expenses relating to compulsory education not covered by the Government. For example, expenses such as the cost of student workbooks, supplementary learning materials, and insurance are not included under the term “Miscellaneous Fees” and will therefore have to be paid by students and their families.

Barriers to girls’ education

  • More than 30 million children under 6 have no access to early childhood services.
  • Disparities exist in access to and provision of education between eastern and western China. 
  • More than 3.27 million children, the majority girls or members of ethnic minority communities, do not go to school due to poverty or low quality of education.
  • The highly unbalanced sex ratio of 117 boys to every 100 girls highlights deeply embedded gender biases in China’s social and cultural milieu, which affect girls’ inclusion in education, especially at higher levels. An estimated two thirds of China's school-age children who are not enrolled in school are girls. When girls are enrolled, they are usually the first to drop out of school when economic pressures affect their families. Less than 50 per cent of girls who graduate from primary school complete secondary education.
  • Language of instruction is the major hurdle for ethnic minority children due to low investment in bilingual education and lack of professionally qualified, ethnic minority teachers.
  • 24 million children of migrant families are unable to afford the high cost of education in host areas, despite a policy providing subsidies. 
  • About 30 million ‘left behind’ children in rural areas are also facing new threats and vulnerabilities, such as drug abuse and AIDS.
  • Despite the government's intensive efforts to upgrade teacher qualifications, significant numbers of China's 10 million schoolteachers remain underqualified. Major challenges include weaning teachers from traditional teaching methods and developing appropriate competency standards.
  • 95 per cent of educational expenditure goes towards teachers’ salaries, leaving insufficient funds for quality inputs such as teacher training and learning resources.
  • Government investment in education is only 2.8 per cent of GDP, while funds for Early Childhood Development are less than 1 per cent of GDP.

UNGEI in action

In China, a Working Group on Girls' Education and Gender Equality has been established under the aegis of the United Nations Theme Group on Basic Education and Human Resource Development. It is led by the UK Department for International Development and UNICEF.

Key initiatives

Recent Government efforts:

  • The revised compulsory education law (2006) calls for nine years of free, compulsory education. Already the law has abolished tuition and miscellaneous fees for all rural students and guarantees free textbooks and subsidies for room and board.
  • The new curriculum aims to improve children’s learning outcomes. Inducting rural schools into the national Modern Distance Education programme should help to improve access to modern learning resources in the country's poorest areas.
  • The underlying goals of the national education policy are to offer quality basic education and to achieve equilibrium between rural and urban areas in human-centred and well-rounded development for children.

UNICEF is working to improve the quality of basic education in the poorest and most remote areas of western China, especially for disadvantaged groups, with the focus on achieving gender equality and improving learner outcomes. 

The programme promotes child-friendly, gender-responsive, safe and healthy learning environments that lead to higher enrolment and retention rates and better learner outcomes. Innovative strategies and educational approaches are being piloted to:

  • ensure the best start to children’s lives through early childhood development.
  • promote holistic and well-rounded development of children in basic education.
  • protect and empower out-of-school children by developing their life skills.

The Education and Child Development Programme of Cooperation has been implemented in 14 provinces of western and central China through the following four projects:

  1. Policy Planning and Monitoring for Educational Disparity Reduction
  2. Early Childhood Development
  3. Child-Friendly Schools and Learner Quality
  4. Non-formal Education.

 

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BEIJING 2005