China has conceded an essential role to non state-run schools in stimulating its economic growth, Katherine Forestier reports
China's premier, Zhu Rongji, has endorsed the expansion of private schooling. "China is a poor country but has a big education problem," Mr Zhu told a national conference last week. "We have no choice but to use various ways to run our schools." The New China News Agency quoted Mr Zhu as saying that the government could offer free land and reduce charges for basic facilities for schools. Any non-state-run schools could open as long as they were in line with relevant laws and regulations.
He said many parents were willing to spend more on their children's schooling and that the government should tap into that potential more. "Speeding up the development of education can raise the quality of our people and stimulate spending on education and that can spur domestic consumption and promote continuous economic growth," he said. The private sector should be encouraged to invest in upper secondary and tertiary education in particular.
Thousands of elite private schools, charging fees of up to pound;5,700 a year, are already operating, while most "key" schools - those chosen by the government to receive extra funds and which attract the best teachers - charge around pound;420, about a third of a teacher's annual salary. In China most parents already pay something towards their children's education.
The conference, the third of its kind since China began its economic reforms in the late 1970s, was hosted in Beijing by the central government and State Council. President Jiang Zemin urged governments and Communist Party committees at all levels to include education in their regional development strategies and modernisation.
He called for deepening reforms in the education system and structure, as part of the national strategy of "revitalising the country through science and education". "We must adhere to the principles of ensuring education serves the people and socialism, and combining educational development with social practices," president Jiang said. Education departments should focus on nurturing students' creativity and practical skills, and train them to be morally upright, intelligent and healthy, he said.
The speeches by the prime minister and president reinforced the ministry of education's Action Plan on Revitalising Education in the 21st Century, a development blueprint approved by the State Council earlier this year.