Oil Boom Refines a County’s School System

Caixin reports on major educational reforms in an oil-rich county in Shaanxi province:

Situated in petroleum-rich northern Shaanxi Province, Wuqi County has reaped the benefits of its natural endowments in recent years. A relatively small population and oil windfalls into local coffers has allowed the county government to expand several social programs. One example of a bricks-and-mortar benefit has been a 150 million yuan Wuqi First Middle School, set to open this year.

In 2009, Wuqi’s GDP reached 8.1 billion yuan, with total fiscal revenue of 2.7 billion yuan and local income of 1.6 billion yuan. Per capita income was over 10,000 yuan, giving Wuqi County a fiscal cushion for reforms.

But spearheading the entrepreneurial reforms in education came in large part from Feng Zhendong, the county party secretary. In 2007, Feng was transferred to Wuqi from his post at Baota District in Yan’an city. The reforms stemmed in part from Feng’s prior experiences as an official in the county education system. Feng said, “Oil is limited. Education is the real foundation for sustainable economic growth.”

As Wuqi’s economic structure shifted to natural resources, urbanization increased and rural students migrated to the cities. Educational resources became strained and the subject of public debate. The growing gap between the rich and poor meant that many could not afford tuition fees. Lacking sufficient public participation in the political process, the distribution of public funds is often determined at the discretion of local government leaders. Under Feng’s urging, the county’s funds were allotted to the new education programs.

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