BEIJING, Nov 10 (AP) -- Poor minority children in China's western regions are falling behind in school, with many unable to read or dropping out before finishing the compulsory nine years of education, the government said Thursday.
China boasts one of the highest literacy rates among developing countries in the world, with 90.9 percent of its population able to read.
But as of 2004 only 474, or 67.8 percent, of the country's 699 autonomous minority counties had basically eliminated illiteracy among youth and middle-aged people or achieved nine-year compulsory education for all, the Ministry of Education said in a statement.
That compared to a 93.6 percent success rate in the rest of the country.
Most of the minority counties falling behind are in China's poor western regions, it said.
China's ethnic minorities -- including the mainly Muslim Uigher and Hui people and Buddhist Tibetans -- number about 105 million or 8 percent of the total population, according to the State Ethnic Affairs Commission.
Government support for rural social services and education have fallen over the past 20 years as China shifted from a planned economy toward a capitalist-style market.
In a move to address the potentially explosive economic divide, Communist Party leaders in March ordered an end to farm taxes and promised more money for construction, education and health care in the neglected countryside.