Education in the Mainland

The Hope Project brings little promise to students in Bai Wan

by Lee Wai Yi

On an old wall one sees these words in red: “The people’s education by the people, a good education for the people”. This is the wall of a primary school in the remote mountain area of northern Guangdong Province.

The 9-year free education programme, together with the Hope Project, a large fund raising project helping rural dropouts, seems to be making a promise of rural education.

“San ji ban xue” is a slogan promoting local executive units to provide education for local people. Under this policy, senior secondary education is provided by the county (xuan), junior secondary by larger villages (xiang) and primary by smaller villages (cun).

Nevertheless, the government’s encouraging slogan meets obstacles when it comes to poor areas like Bai Wan, a town of the Qingyuan Municipality.

This is because the local government of Bai Wan has to bear a large share of the financial burden for education.

The burden includes teachers' salaries, the construction fees of the campus, costs of facilities and more.

In the Mainland, certified teachers are “state-paid” (guo ban), while the “people-paid” (min ban) teachers get paid locally.

Certified teachers get a monthly salary of 380 renminbi while the min ban teachers get only 180 Rmb.

At Bai Wan, there are 81 certified teachers and 31 min ban teachers.

Actually, the word “state-paid” only requires the central government to set a “wage”. The local governments are the ones who pay the teachers at this set price. In other words, the 112 teachers in Bai Wan cause a heavy burden to the Bai Wan local government.

Although delayed pament is not common in Bai Wan, life is still not easy for min ban teachers.

Unlike the intellectuals in other cities, teachers in Bai Wan cannot supplement their incomes with businesses. Businesses are uncommon in poor areas like Bai Wan. As a result, the teachers have to work very hard in the family field, making them exhausted.

Apart from teachers’ salaries, the construction fees of the campus also push the schools to difficult situations.

According to the policy, an unfixed part of the construction fee is provided by the state government. Then, the local governments are responsible for the rest and also other payments for facilities.

Mr. Sing Wai Hung, principal of Hope Primary School, said, “We still owe the construction company a sum of money.

“We have been asking for the sum of money from the higher officer and also trying to get the money through donation,” said Mr. Sing, whose school is the largest in the area.

“We do not know when we can pay all these debts. As everyone knows, poverty in Bai Wan makes it impossible to run any school-run business to support ourselves like people in other places do.

“What’s more, we expect an increase in number of students in the next academic year, so we are considering building one more storey on the building.”

Mr. Sing said there is always a debt: the Education Office cannot get enough money for the school, so the school always owes the construction company.

“There is no way out. It is no use even to go to the municipal government, because this is a poor municipality,” he said.

Concerning the teaching facilities, there is also great insufficiency. There are no musical instruments for music lessons. The dusters are only bunches of torn cloth. The situation is the worse in remote mountain areas.

For instance, a primary school in Bei Jian does not even have a bell. At the Bei An Primary School, the basketball backboard has fallen onto the ground.

With these poor and inadequate facilities, the local government has to find the money itself. One of the major financial sources is the students.

As a result, the “9-year free basic education” is not “free” at all. Although there is no “school fee”, students have to pay the “integrated fee” every academic year.

This integrated fee pays for textbooks, exercise books, stationery, an “activities fee”, an “equipment fee”, healthcare, insurance, and salaries for teachers.

The integrated fees collected by schools are then delivered to the Education Office of the Town Government. After that, the Education Office distributes the money to the 12 primary schools and one secondary school according to the assessment of its officers.

The schools with the largest proportion are usually the Hope Primary School and the Hope Secondary School.

The students in Bei Jian and Bei An pay the same amount of integrated fee. But they do not receive as much money as the Hope Schools and therefore the facilities are poorer. There are not enough desks and chairs for Bei An Hope Primary School.

According to Mr. Sing, families are moving in from the mountains for a better life. This means there will be more students for Hope Primary School.

“The decreasing number of students in the mountain areas may mean fewer financial supports to the schools in these areas. This will bring more difficulties to the poor students there.”

Man Yiu, a Primary 4 boy at the Nan An Primary School, lives in the mountains. His younger sister cannot go to school since their parents are worried about dangers on the long way to school. This is Man Yiu’s daily routine: • waking up at 6;

• walking for an hour in the mountains to school;

• having lessons;

• playing table tennis during lunch time since he cannot go home for lunch because the way is too far;

• having lessons;

•heading towards home;

• having dinner;

•doing some housework;

• studying late at night;

• going to bed.

In Bai Wan, the integrated fee for each student is approximately 400 Rmb, which is the average annual income for most families in Bai Wan.

As a result, Man Yiu’s elder brother quit after finishing Primary 5 so the family could pay Man Yiu’s integrated fee.

Sui-lin, a Primary 4 girl studying in the Hope Primary School, encountered the same problem.

Sui-lin’s elder brother quit school after Secondary 1 so that she and her elder sister could continue studying.

Sui-lin’s father said, “In the next term, I may not be able to take up my responsibility as a father. I can no longer afford my daughters’ integrated fees.

“My eldest son has to get married this year, so we need to borrow 10,000 Rmb for the wedding banquet. How can I pay the integrated fees afterwards?”

Sui-lin is one of 30 students supported by the Hope Project, but it does not help much.

The Hope Project is a top down mechanism which requires no application process. Firstly, the project sets a quota for different areas. The local governments have to accept this limit and ask the schools to hand in a list of students who need help.

In the process of listing the students, teachers, who know the students’ family background best, take no part in the decision of who gets the grants.

Since the grants go through many departments, it usually takes a long time before reaching the students.

“The money collected are put into the China Youth Development Foundation in Beijing. Then it has to go through different levels of local government departments, then to schools and finally to the students,” said Mr. Sing of Hope Primary School.

“Therefore, some students cannot pay the integrated fee even after the whole term.”

Actually, the grant amounts from only 50 to 80 Rmb per term. Families like Sui-lin’s still have to get a large proportion of money by themselves.

“I want to continue studying,” said Sui-lin.

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