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Chinese premier reiterates necessity for improving education

BEIJING, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said that better education is essential to a powerful China, repeating the central authorities' call to prioritize education reform and development.

"For a country as populous as China, education must be given an even more prominent role. Building a first-class country demands first-class education and top-tier talent," Wen said.

Wen made the remarks in a speech at a high-profile meeting of the central authorities on education last month, according to the text of the speech Xinhua received on Tuesday.

The focus of the National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development, drawn up by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the State Council, was on building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects and pushing forward socialist modernization, Wen said.

The government began to draft the plan in August 2008 and published it in full on July 29 this year. It aims to turn China into a country rich in talent, extend educational opportunities, and raise education quality among other goals.

It outlines major goals and policies regarding education in the next decade and, in particular, a goal to increase the proportion of government spending on education to gross domestic product to 4 percent by 2012.

In the speech, Wen elaborated on the thinking of the central authorities in making the plan.

Firstly, educational development must equally meet the needs of the present and the future, fostering both talents that could solve prominent problems in current social and economic development and those that can guide development in the future.

Secondly, improving education was indispensable to fulfilling China's drive to transform its economic growth on the basis of the advance of science and technology and enhanced quality of the work force, because the transformation demanded social progress and development in every way.

Thirdly, it was the duty of the government to provide more educational opportunities that were of better quality and more equally accessible.

Fourthly, educational development must be predicated on improving education quality, for the development is not merely the expansion of education. In improving education quality, reform and innovation were fundamental, Wen said.

China had found a way to develop socialist education with Chinese characteristics and established the world's largest education system, providing opportunities for millions of Chinese, he said.

Education can close the gap between social groups to stop poverty breeding poverty and achieve the full and all round development of people, he said.

Efforts must be made to promote equal access to education as it is the basis of social justice, Wen added.

More education resources should go to underdeveloped areas, more students from low-income families should get government grants, and more special education schools should be built to achieve equal access to education, he said.

China has been increasing scholarship funding and subsidies for students. This year 26 billion yuan from the central budget would be spent on scholarships and subsidies for students of universities and vocational schools, up from 2.05 billion yuan in 2006, Wen said.

Authorities should ensure children of migrant workers had access to free and compulsory education, he urged.

Wen called for more coordinated development of education, stressing more efforts were needed to improve preschool, vocational and higher education.

For children from rural and low-income urban families, who accounted for more than 85 percent of students in vocational schools, vocational education would help them find jobs and shake off poverty, Wen said.

The higher education sector needed to be moderately expanded as the proportion of universities students per capita remained low, Wen said.

In 2009, China's higher learning institutions had 29.79 million students, with a gross enrolment rate of 24.2 percent.

Wen admitted preschool education was a "very weak link" in China's education system, and "the people have many complaints about it."

The government should increase investment in preschool education and encourage private investment, he said. Priority should be given to developing preschool education in rural, remote and ethnic minority areas, as well as in the country's less developed central and west regions.

Wen urged the deepening of curriculum reform to allow students to develop in an all-around manner, with a focus on fostering students' self-confidence, imagination and practical abilities.

Wen stressed the reform of the education system, calling for greater autonomy for schools, more democratic school management, and more government support for private schools.

Governments should interfere less with the decision-making processes and management of schools, so schools can be less bureaucratic, he said.

Wen urged more respect for teachers and the improvement of their living and work conditions, so teaching will be the most-sought after profession in China.

He also urged the better training of teachers, especially those in rural areas.

He said teachers should not only impart knowledge and wisdom to students, but also be exemplary in character.

Wrapping up his speech, Wen said, "Making and implementing education reform and development is just a starting point. The task to provide education that satisfies the people is arduous and it will not be accomplished in a short time."

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