Economic disparity worsens children’s growing pains in China [People’s Daily]

By Xinhua writers Zhou Yan, Pan Qiang and Li Meijuan (Xinhua)
May 31, 2013



As the world’s second-largest economy prepares to celebrate Children’s Day, many adults are recalling the good old days of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, when few families were rich but children were probably happier.

Today, however, “a happy, carefree” childhood seems out of reach for city and rural children alike.

In 10 years, city kids like Wei Yufan will probably be studying at a university in Beijing, eyeing well-paid jobs in big companies.

By then, Luo Tingxi may have become a skilled worker on a factory assembly line or in a coal pit. He might also be married with two children.

If the economic disparity is not lifted by then, growing pains will persist for those on both sides.

While city children fight pains inflicted by demanding parents, rural children’s pains often reflect the fast-growing, unbalanced economy, which could backfire and hamper further economic growth, warned Liu Fuxiang, deputy education chief in Yanchuan County of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province.

“The yawning rural-urban income gap has worsened disparity in many other sectors, like education, in particular,” he said.

Rural children, he said, perform far worse than their urban peers on major tests these days, but not because they are not clever or diligent. “They are victims of an unbalanced allocation of teaching resources.”

The rapid urbanization drive has drawn an influx of rural workers to cities and boomtowns, where more schools have been built. “Many rural schools in remote, sparsely-populated villages were closed down and children from several villages have to share one school,” said Liu.

As many migrants have taken their school-aged children with them to cities, most village schools in the underdeveloped areas of Yanchuan County are more like daycare centers for left-behind children, orphans and handicapped children, he said.

Troubled by insufficient funding and teachers, it is also hard for these schools to offer many subjects. “Some schools only teach reading and arithmetic. Gym class is all about frolicking and running around,” said Liu. “Many children just wait for the nine years of compulsory education to end soon so they can take a job in the city.”

The consequences of the disparity could be severe, as poverty could twist the youngsters’ value systems. “The children are our future,” he said. “Our future will be gloomy if they are not educated properly.”

“Children in poverty tend to admire the material abundance in cities and even worship money,” said Yang Yuansong, a rural school teacher known for “Left-behind Children’s Diaries,” a collection of tear-stained diary entries written by rural children whose parents work in faraway cities.

“When young migrants in their village return home with fashionable clothing and stylish haircuts, their value system changes and they long to see the wide world for themselves instead of concentrating on their schoolwork.”

Yang said reminding them of the importance of learning and keeping their dreams alive is essential. But often, their parents are not home and schools do not have enough teachers to offer them the proper guidance.

Ding Xueqian, a rural school teacher in Gansu Province and a deputy to the local parliament, has called for more funding from the central and provincial treasuries to boost education in remote rural areas.

“It’s important to train adequate teachers and build safer classrooms for countryside schools,” he said. “By narrowing the gap between rural and urban education, we can expect to provide quality education to rural students and reverse the widespread prejudice that ‘going to school is useless.'”

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