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In parts of China, BYO school supplies include desks

Wang Zheng/Changjiang Times

Wang Ziqi's grandmother carries his desk to school and his older sister carries a chair.

BEIJING – While millions of students all over the world return to school this month, youngsters in one part of China were expected to bring not just pencils and notebooks, but their own desks and chairs when school opened.  

As students all over China headed back to class on Monday, the grandmother of 3-year-old Wang Ziqi was spotted carrying a desk in Shunhe, Hubei Province, for the boy’s first day, while his older sister carried a chair for him.

Wang’s case is hardly unique. In Shunhe, there are more than 5,000 students in the town’s primary and middle schools, but the government only supplied 2,000 desks for them, leaving 3,000 children to bring their own from home.

In the town of modest means, for some that required grabbing whatever they could so that they have something to write on, even a coffee table.

Another man in Shunhe, whose son also just started preschool, was reached by telephone for comment. He spoke on the condition of anonymity since he blamed local government corruption for the problems. 

Wang Zheng/ Courtesy Changjiang Times

A school boy listens attentively at a coffee table that his family brought from home to his school.

“The central government has money for the school’s facilities,” he said. “But when it comes to us, the money is already gone.”

When a local newspaper, the Changjiang Times, reported on the shortfall in desks, it caused a firestorm of criticism. In response, the local government in Macheng, which oversees the area including Shunhe, said it had already sent 100 desks to help out, and committed over $600,000 to close the budget shortfall.

But people are still asking why it took a media report to get officials to pay attention to this basic government function and questioned whether they would really see more money in local budgets.

“I would rather believe there is a ghost in the world than governments' promises,” one commenter wrote in to the Changjiang Times update that the local government would add more money to the school budget.

Another chimed in, “The project funding has to be transparent, otherwise it is not even enough money to spend on officials' drinks…” 

When NBC called Xiang Mingxiu, the only teacher at Changchong Village primary school in Shunhe, she confirmed that some progress had been made –10 desks had been sent to her school. (The other 90 desks the local government said had been sent were apparently distributed to other local schools).  

“The desk issue has been solved,” Xiang said. But, she was quick to point out that other problems remained. “We need a way to repair our classrooms. All of the windows are broken and the ceilings and walls are covered in holes.”

The government may not pay for the windows, but at least a few of the students in her school won’t be expected to bring their own desk from home. 

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