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Project aids disabled rural kids in accessing education

By:LI LEI 2021/5/17 16:05:57
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In rural areas, where education and rehabilitation services were once rare, the fate of children with severe disabilities sometimes resulted in them being locked in their rooms while their parents went to work.

However, over the past six years, a government-backed program has moved to remedy the situation in rural areas of Jiangxi province.

In 2015, authorities in Xinfeng county, which pioneered the initiative, started setting aside annual funding of 300,000 yuan ($46,600) for the "bringing lessons home" program.

Hundreds of teachers from public schools have been sent to the children's homes as tutors and rehabilitation instructors. By Sunday, the 31st National Day for Helping the Disabled, almost 400 children scattered across rural communities had taken part in the program. More than 45,000 home visits have been made by educators to "deliver personalized education plans to children's doorsteps", according to county officials.

Under China's poverty-alleviation drive headed by President Xi Jinping, dropout rates of rural students have fallen significantly in recent years.

Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, has also paid close attention to people with disabilities.

On many occasions, he has highlighted the plight disabled people in impoverished rural areas face, stressing that they are equal members of society and require special government attention. After meetings or inspection tours, Xi often warmly greets people with disabilities and offers them encouragement.

Not alone

Teachers involved in the program said the weekly home visits-which include literacy and numeracy classes and rehabilitation-have bolstered the children's cognitive abilities.

Liu Yufu, a deputy head of a middle school who teaches biology, said he joined the program three years ago.

The 11-year-old boy he is in charge of has cerebral palsy, which has caused severe speech and perception problems.

"At first, he couldn't utter words clearly and would run away every time his caretakers let down their guard," Liu said. "Thanks to the visits over the past three years, he is able to count from one to 10, and to call his grandma."

More importantly, the program offers poor rural families company and support. Young parents often toil away in far-off factories and on construction sites, leaving children in the care of aging grandparents or other relatives.

Xu Xiansheng, who teaches Chinese at a primary school in the county seat, said, "When farmers go in the field, they often lock the kids up at home to prevent them from getting lost in the mountains or caught up in conflicts with neighbors."

Last year, 31-year-old Xu joined the program and has been visiting two boys. One is 14 and has cerebral palsy, the other is 16 and has epilepsy. "Our home visits have offered them a short escape from loneliness," he said.

Eleven-year-old Liu Jiayi is one of 171 children with "severe disabilities "enrolled in the program. She suffered brain injuries in an accident seven years ago and is cared for by her grandmother in a rural part of Xinfeng.

Over the past five years, a pair of teachers have visited her every week. They also educate the grandmother about basic rehabilitation via the WeChat messaging app.

"The teachers visit every Wednesday, and the girl is really happy and energetic every time they come," the grandmother told China Central Television, the State broadcaster.

Xu said he and his colleagues, the "people's teachers", are ambassadors for the government and bring warmth to families, many of whom are isolated because of discrimination.

Initial success in Xinfeng, where rural residents make up almost 80 percent of inhabitants, has seen similar programs undertaken in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and Hunan and Shaanxi provinces.

The poverty-alleviation program has also seen millions of disabled people receive education and rehabilitation or given equipment such as hearing aids and wheelchairs. State benefits now cover more people in rural areas, and hundreds of thousands of homes have been renovated with toilets, handrails and low stoves to improve accessibility for disabled people.

Great achievement

Ninety-five percent of registered disabled children today have access to nine years of compulsory education, hitting the target the central government set for the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), according to the Blue Book of the Cause for Persons with Disabilities released last week.

The number was only 72.1 percent in 2012, and just over 60 percent in 2008, when China ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, according to central government data.

By the end of 2019, China had about 2,200 schools for students with special needs. Students enrolled at such institutions increased by 80 percent from 2015, reaching about 800,000.

China's National Disability Day, celebrated annually on the third Sunday of May, started in 1991, a few months after the Standing Committee of the 7th National People's Congress, the top legislature, passed the Protection of Disabled Persons Law.

The decades that followed have seen huge progress in disabled people's welfare, ranging from literacy, their financial standing and access to facilities and buildings.

The blue book, published by the Social Sciences Academic Press, said the per capita disposable income of families with disabled members had increased more than 6.5 percent annually over the past five years.

More than 90 percent of disabled people are covered by basic old-age insurance, China's pension fund system, and more than 95 percent by basic health insurance. Access to rehabilitation services and equipment is now available to more than 80 percent of disabled people.

Source:China Daily
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