Education breaks intergenerational poverty cycles in west China
As she steps into the classroom and faces dozens of young faces eager for knowledge, Zhao Xiaolan often recalls the recent past when she and her younger brother squeezed and studied late in a small rented room.
In the fall semester, Zhao, 23, got her first job as a middle school Chinese language teacher. Her 20-year-old brother Zhao Xiaoqiang is now a sophomore in the medical school of Lanzhou University.
During the past decade, China has made big progress in reducing poverty through the promotion of education, which is key to stopping poverty from being passed on to the next generations.
Benefiting from the country's education policies for poverty alleviation, this sister and brother have broken cycles of intergenerational poverty and reversed their family fate.
They are from Xiabamu village, one of the most impoverished villages in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of northwest China's Gansu Province. Twelve years ago, their parents worked thousands of kilometers away from home for higher incomes to support the family.
The two, 11 and 8 years old then, had since become left-behind children. "Every year, only when the river in front of our house froze, my parents came back home," recalled the brother.
Being almost illiterate, the parents could only do heavy labor work at construction sites with an annual income of around 6,000 yuan (about 880 U.S. dollars). For years, the family struggled under the poverty line.
At the age of 13, the sister moved into a rented house with a single-bedroom near the school with her brother. Every back-to-school season, she would wait for the money transferred by her parents to pay tuition and rent. Sometimes, she had to knock on the doors of their relatives to borrow money.
"Those days were hard," said Zhao Xiaolan. "I was so worried we might be rejected from the school if we did not pay tuition on time."
Things changed in 2013 when China initiated its targeted poverty alleviation program, which demands tailored policies to suit different local situations. The government also stressed the importance of education in poverty reduction and has implemented a series of measures to ensure children of impoverished families can enjoy access to high-quality education.
From the fall semester in 2013, the sister and brother started receiving national education funds and subsidies that waive tuition and other fees, supply free textbooks, and grant living allowances for boarders.
"We did not need to pay for school," said Zhao Xiaolan, adding that they also received national and regional subsidies of more than 5,000 yuan every semester.
"Our school provided free breakfast and lunch, and I finally started to grow taller with the help of nutritious food," recalled Zhao Xiaoqiang, jokingly.
Meanwhile, their family was supported by other poverty-alleviation policies, such as basic medical services for their parents and free renovation for their dilapidated house. The local government also helped their mother get a job nearby so that she could keep the company of her children.
In 2015, the sister became the first college student in the family. Local education authorities helped her get a student loan covering her four years' tuition.
"Go and study hard. Do not worry about money. The government would not let you drop out," Ning Xuezhong, director of the Zhuoni county education department, was recalled as saying then.
Last year, Zhao Xiaoqiang got the highest scores in the college entrance examination in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and was admitted to the medical school of Lanzhou University.
According to statistics from the Gansu provincial education department, from 2016 to 2019, a total of 17.33 billion yuan of educational funds or student loans were issued, benefiting 12.12 million students in the province.
On the national agenda, China aims to achieve the goal of eradicating absolute poverty by the end of this year. By March, the poor population in Gansu had been reduced to 175,000 from 1.11 million in 2018.
To Zhao's family, they had realized this goal one year ahead and started to fight for a higher goal of living a relatively well-off life.
This year, Zhao Xiaolan becomes a special-post teacher in a village middle school in Gannan, entitled to a monthly salary of 5,500 yuan, nearly equaling her family's total annual income in the past.