Through a ground-breaking attempt to provide free kindergarten education, a poverty-stricken county in northwest China has won applause in addition to prompting reflection on rural education in most parts of China.
Local authorities from Ningshan County in northwest China's Shaanxi Province said that, starting this autumn, its 2,040 children aged three to six could attend kindergartens for free.
As primary and high school educations were already free, Ningshan is China's first impoverished inland county to offer 15 years of free schooling.
The Ningshan county government said it invested 2.4 million yuan (375,000 U.S dollars) to initiate the program, hoping to raise the county's preschool enrollment rate.
"Most of the funds come from increased revenue, which has been boosted by our investments in ecological tourism, green mining, and healthy food industry," said Jiang Jun, a local Communist Party of China (CPC) official.
Qi Zhixiang, another local CPC official, said the county government also tightened its belt to raise funds. The county government prohibited new government car purchases and delayed renovations on its rundown office building.
"In Ningshan, the most beautiful buildings are the schools," said Qi.
With a population of 74,000, Ningshan reported revenue of 30.75 million yuan last year. The government spent roughly two-fifths of its income on education, which was more than the national average of 12.5 percent.
Starting in 2007, the county launched a nutrition plan for boarding students, and it has provided free vocational training and free senior high school education since 2009.
As a result, its proportion of junior high school students entering senior high school reached 92 percent in 2009, up from 44.6 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, the national average was 52.9 percent in 2009.
"The program saved my family nearly 2,000 yuan this year. It used to be a great burden," said Li Qiuning, a local farmer whose child attends a local kindergarten.