Students attend a class at Wenwei Middle School in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, on May 11 (XINHUA)
All school-age children in China should attend primary and middle schools, unless they are unfit, a new guideline said on June 29.
Issued by the Ministry of Education and nine other departments, the guideline stressed the need to intensify efforts to prevent dropouts in the country's compulsory education system from first to ninth grade.
The number of dropout students in China has nose-dived from 600,000 in early 2019 to 6,781 on June 14, thanks to the nation's poverty alleviation efforts, the guideline said.
There were only 97 students from families registered as impoverished who were not attending primary and middle schools by June, down from 200,000 in early 2019, it said.
The completion rate of nine-year compulsory education is expected to reach 95 percent by the end of 2020, the guideline said, calling for ongoing efforts to make sure children from impoverished families have access to compulsory education.
Local authorities should keep records on all dropouts and make sure all dropouts from impoverished families return to school in the fall, it said.
Education authorities and schools should communicate with parents and students via different means and prevent any new dropouts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it added.
Education, public security, human resources and social security authorities should share information about any students who start working before age 16, and authorities should punish employers that hire those students, the guideline said.
It also put forward measures to prevent dropouts due to early marriage, early childbearing and religious beliefs.
Authorities should use various means, including persuasion, financial aid and even administrative and legal punishment of parents to encourage dropout students to return to school and prevent new dropouts, it added.
Although China passed the Compulsory Education Law in 1986, many students were unable to complete the nine-year compulsory education as they couldn't afford to pay school fees.
The revised Compulsory Education Law in 2006 stipulated that all students in the compulsory education system from primary school to middle school were exempted from tuition fees and provided with free textbooks.
Xiong Bingqi, Deputy Director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said making sure all school-age children can go to school is consistent with the government's efforts to lift all people out of poverty by the end of 2020.
"However, as rural students are still disadvantaged in terms of having good education resources and teachers, it is harder for them to go to good universities and change their lives, prompting many students to find work or start a family at an early age," he said.
The government should continue to increase investment in rural education, as access to good education is one of the most fundamental means to get rid of poverty, he said.