Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The “£economic miracle” that is modern China invests little in education, especially in rural areas. This favours the exploitation of child labour by schools to pay for fees. The high fees moreover lead many students to leave their studies in search of work as unqualified labourers.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, during a visit to Beijing's Teachers' University on 9 September stressed that: “Although our country has made great economic and social progress in recent years, the development has not been even. We must improve education development in rural areas a lot so that every child can go to school”.
In 2006, the government spent US billion on education, just 2.65 percent of GDP, which stood at US.68 trillion. Despite this the official Xinhua News Agency has triumphantly announced that government expenditure on education would increase by nearly 20 percent this year to 646.1 billion Yuan (US billion).
In her 2003 report on education in China, United Nations Special Rapporteur, Katarina Tomaševski recommended that China's "budgetary allocation for education be increased to the internationally recommended minimum of 6 per cent of GDP, that is, doubled”. Thus the bulk of the funding for schools' day-to-day operations often comes from fees charged to parents. Teachers' salaries and pensions are not being paid, and schools are running up massive debts just to cover the cost of equipment purchases and building maintenance.
Experts observe that the high cost and poor quality of the rural school system has led to increasing numbers of children dropping out of school early and going into work while still under the legal minimum employment age of 16. It has also led to many rural schools selling their students' labour to factories in so called "work study" and "summer employment" programmes: programmes which hide out an out child exploitation, long hours of work in terrible conditions for little or no pay, given over to the schools to cover their fees. But a part from the clamorous cases of abuse (such as Dongguan factory which “sequestered” dozens of students from Sichuan in 2007 forcing them to work for 14 hours a day without a day off, prohibited from making phone calls home or leaving the factory premises; or the children of 12 recruited each year to pick cotton Xinjiang, for minimal pay and fined for not having reached the minimum quota), the phenomenon is so widespread that on July 3 2007 the Education Ministry established that the “didactic work” for “university students” must not exceed 40 hours a week for a minimum wage of 8 Yuan an hour (less than a dollar a day). The minister however did not specify if the students were of primary, junior or high school age. Analysts say that the government needs to give a clear and unequivocal definition to ‘child labour’, which includes programmes of summer work-experience, to safeguard students taking part. For many rural schools without State assistance, the student’s summer work is all that keeps them open throughout the year.