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Free education model in Wuqi: how does a rich county benefit the public?

07-09-2010 15:04 BJT

Beilei Nursery School covers an area of three mu and a building area of over 8,000 square meters. There are 25 classes and each class has a 30-inch color TV, a DVD player and a water heater. The total number of students is over 1,000 and the largest class has 59 students. Because there are too many students in one class and they sit next to each other, they look very close together during class activities.

This is the largest private kindergarten in Wuqi County, Shaanxi province, and the students here have outnumbered the only public kindergarten in the county. Because the kindergarten is located in the Wuqi Development Zone, where there are many migrant workers, about 20 percent of students are from other provinces. Regardless of their registered permanent residence, each child only has to pay a tuition of 650 yuan, 450 to 500 yuan for living costs and 50 yuan for textbooks.

From the spring of this year, all the kindergartens in Wuqi County have begun implementing the "one free and three subsidies" policy, namely, exempt the textbooks fees, subsidize 250 yuan of living costs for each of the registered children and 150 yuan to those children in private kindergartens such as Beilei Nursery School each semester, and subsidize teachers in private kindergartens 200 yuan a month.

This is only a part of the free education system in Wuqi County. Since 2006, the county spends over 10 percent of its financial expenditures on education every year, with the total education capital in 2009 reaching 285 million yuan, accounting for 15 percent of the annual financial expenditures. The county has injected a total of 860 million yuan into 12 policy-based education investments over the past four years.

This is a small county with no more than 69,000 people, but its large capital investment in education has reflected the county's recognition and aspiration for the rapid development of the local economy. Located in resources-rich area in north Shaanxi, the county has mainly depended on the oil industry for the local economic and social progress. With the rapid increase of the local GDP, the county is rapidly developing.

When Wuqi County had just started to develop the oil industry in 1993, the local annual financial revenue was only 4 million yuan. In contrast, the total output value in 2009 stood at 8.2 billion yuan, and financial revenue reached nearly 2.8 billion yuan, among which the local financial revenue reached 1.6 billion yuan.

These great achievements came from the output of crude oil, which saw an annual increase of 300,000 tons. Oil has made this otherwise poor place famous and rich nearly overnight.

Based on opinions of 50 well-known experts in China, the People's Forum magazine has listed 10 features of the "middle-income trap" countries. They are the decline or stagnation of economic growth, chaos in the democratic functions of government, polarization, corruption, over-urbanization, shortage of social and public services, employment difficulties, social instability, lack of faith and fragile financial system.

To Wuqi County, which is only a small county in the valley of Shaanxi, oil is a non-renewable resource; they cannot depend on it forever. The problems brought by becoming rich with oil, including polarization between the rich and the poor and shortage of social and public services, are the current challenges.

The free education, in the long run, may be the timely response to this "anxiety."

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