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Plan targets developing areas

CHINA. China is to extend compulsory education to almost half the country before the end of the century.

Plans announced earlier this month at a national conference of educationists in Hefei put special emphasis on increasing the proportion of children in school in developing areas.

By next year, it is planned, compulsory education will reach "comprehensive coverage" in the six developing provinces, with the nine provinces of central China following suit by 1999 and a target of 65 per cent of children in the provinces and ethnic minority areas in the west of the country.

Despite the ambitious plans, however, China's investment in education remains low. According to Fei Xiaotong, vice-chairman of a parliamentary standing committee, some legal requirements on investment have not been met. Fei, who recently led an investigation into spending on education, said that between 1995 and 2000 central and local governments earmarked more than 10 billion yaun ($1.2 billion) to help with compulsory education in impoverished counties - the largest sum ever allotted.

However, the proportion of state budget allotted to education has tended to decrease: 2.8 per cent of GDP in 1993; 2.5 per cent in 1994 and 2.4 per cent in 1995.

Fei said these figures contravene a provision in the Education Act that says the percentage of the budgetary expenditure on education should rise "gradually" and a rate higher than the growth rate of fiscal revenue. This has meant that some teachers do not receive their salaries on time.

* Zhow Jiebinbg, a Hong Kong councillor, has made a personal donation of 1 million yuan to fund the education of impoverished girls in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. The money, intended to assist girl drop-outs, highlights the preferential treatment families give to the education of boys.

The China Children's Foundation launched Project Hope in 1989 to provide financial assistance to poor families to allow the to keep their children in school.

Some families still have more than one child, either born before the one-child policy or members of ethnic minorities who are exempt, and have been using the Project Hope money to education their sons.

This, according to CCF vice-chairwoman Kang Lee, has meant the female drop-out rate has risen to 70 per cent.

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