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.)
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.