Dwindling attendance leaves China primary school with only one child

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Wang Hao attended the first national flag-raising ceremony of the new semester on Monday. Only three people took part - Wang and his two teachers.

The 12-year-old student, who is in the fifth grade, has been the sole student at Sanmenli Village Primary School since September.

Sanmenli, home to more than 1,000 residents, is about 90 kilometers from downtown Gongzhuling in Jilin province.

"In the past, the primary school was well-known in the nearby villages. At one time there were more than 200 students and a dozen teachers," said Wang Lixin, the village's Party chief. "However, the teachers retired one by one after 2010 and students began to transfer to nearby Maochengzi Town Primary School."

Maochengzi primary, about 6 km away, is much larger and conditions are better, he said. "Parents tell me their children enjoy studying there, where they have more classmates and a better learning environment. Some parents even moved to the town."

Chen Hongyan, who teaches Wang Hao in every subject except physical education, said they provide the boy with the same educational resources as in other schools.

"Every day, he completes all seven classes, sticking to the schedule. I have set 14 alarms on my cellphone as class bells," said the 41-year-old teacher, who has been at the school for 18 years.

"Even though there is only one student in the class, I will still do a good job. It's our duty to ensure every child enjoys equal rights to education, and I believe any teacher would do the same."

Taking care of Wang Hao has also become his teachers' responsibility.

Even in early spring, temperatures can drop to about -15 C in the northeastern village. Chen has to add fuel to a stove to keep the 50-square-meter classroom warm when her student is reading or doing exercises.

Liu Haitao, the boy's PE teacher, also hurried to the center of town on Monday to fetch textbooks and study materials before a heavy snowfall.

"Usually Wang Hao doesn't like expressing his emotions, and he has never said if he would like to transfer to another school," Chen said. "To prevent him from feeling lonely, we often talk to him during breaks.

"He really enjoys listening to our stories and hearing news from outside the village. He's just like my own son, and I hope he will have a wonderful future."

Wang Hailong, 34, the boy's father, said he is grateful to the teachers and relieved he is able to send his child to a local school.

"I've considered transferring him to another school, but I worry he might be bullied and won't be able to adapt to the new environment," he said.

"Also, the extra expense including travel and lunch would be a burden. My mother has a serious skin disease and I need to save part of our income for her treatment."

The family of six has 1 hectare of cultivated land and 30 sheep, which brings them about 30,000 yuan ($4,740) a year.

"My 6-year-old daughter will start primary school next year and I've decided to send her to the same school as her brother," Wang Hailong added.

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