Poor Chinese Schools Tell Students: Bring Your Own Desks

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A Chinese parent transports her daughter for the first day of school in Macheng, central China's Hubei province. More than 3000 other students have to bring their own desks to school.

Preparing for the first day of school is a ritual around the world: collecting notebooks and pencils, filling up backpacks, choosing what to wear to your new classroom. But for some Chinese students, their back-to-school checklists this year included one unlikely item: a desk.

According to a report in the Chinese-language Changjiang Times, elementary school students in poor parts of central China’s Hubei province were forced to bring their own desks to school this year, after their local school district only received 2,000 new desks for its 5,000 students.

That meant some 3,000 kids had to haul in their own desks this year — or find someone to do it for them. Photos of grandparents carrying desks on behalf of their grandchildren flooded Chinese media outlets, sparking outrage among Chinese net citizens. (As in many rural Chinese villages, many working-age adults in the township of Shunhe have left to find higher paying jobs in cities, leaving  grandparents as the sole caretakers of the young students.)

(MORE: China: Can Education Curb a Mistress Epidemic?)

In one case, a grandmother was photographed hoisting a desk that weighed nearly 70 pounds (30 kilograms) while walking her grandson to school. Others hauled coffee tables and end tables. A grandfather, expressing his frustration, reportedly said, “I hope by the time I die I won’t have to see children carrying desks to school.” The Changjiang Times told of one student who brought a desk that had been used by two previous generations of her family.

Since the photographs were published, many have demanded responses from local government officials. Some suggested the school administrators “dig into their own pockets” to buy desks and chairs for the students, according to the China Daily. So far officials have pledged enough money to buy 100 sets of desks and chairs, the newspaper reported.

The scenes of poor, toiling children and elderly grandparents has stoked rage among Chinese citizens unhappy at what they see as the country’s growing divide between rich and poor. A recent story by the Chinese news agency Xinhua highlighted the privileged children of wealthy Chinese whose pricey summer camps overseas can cost more than $5,000 — about the same as the country’s per capita annual income. Closer to home, elite private schools for China’s well-to-do can cost some $2,000 a year. NewsFeed assumes that desks are provided.

MORE: Can China Successfully Educate Its Future Workforce?

14 comments
davemorris
davemorris

If Romney and Ryan get into office, American kids will have to bring their own desks too.

Tom Makau
Tom Makau

Taking your own desk tto school is normal in rural Kenya. Other thank desks, some school children carry firewood and water that's used for cooking school meals under the world bank funded school feeding programme

Mike
Mike

If the Beijing gangsters could just not steal money one day per week, situations like this could be avoided....

Kathy Webb
Kathy Webb

This supermom isn't letting anything get in the way of her daughter's education - go momma! Dressed for success, on a scooter, with ready-for-class daughter and the #1 item on the back to school shopping list - student desk. 

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 I'd rather bring my own desk for schools than study in a typical American school where the program is dumbed down to infinity (at list before the high school) and class violence can be a lot higher than what I experienced.

 And I'm not even Chinese.

杨洋
杨洋

I'm a Chinese college student from Hainan province, back to my hometown, a rural small town, students there are just crazy about study, study and study. Maybe sth you don't know, but the class violence is universal, we have already get used to it. We been taught about how to become a man of wealth, and we believe we can. But when you grow up, you find it's just so funny.

panasian
panasian

Hey, what are you exactly trying to say?

杨洋
杨洋

Well...Starshiprarity have made it clear, my english is not so good so I'm sorry about that blurry words.

panasian
panasian

@Starshipparity: Thanks for the translation.

Starshiprarity
Starshiprarity

He's saying chinese children are highly motivated and everyone has school shootings every once in a while.

The last part was a comment on chinese propaganda providing false hope to school children- see GOP economics.

f_galton
f_galton

"In one case, a grandmother was photographed hoisting a desk that weighed nearly 70 pounds (30 kilograms) while walking her grandson to school. Others hauled coffee tables and end tables."

Hilarious.

panasian
panasian

I fail to understand your stupid  juvenile humor.

Val (LCH) ϟ
Val (LCH) ϟ

Growing gap between rich and poor?  Why does this sound so familiar . . .