Students assemble robots during the 13th Computer Robot Competition in Jinan, East China's Shandong Proivince, in April, 2015. Photo: CFP
Students from a rural primary school in East China's Jiangsu Province won the qualification to participate in the final of a robotics competition in Columbia, but they could not afford the costs for attending the event.
The school decided to give up the opportunity on Tuesday, after local education authorities noted that robotic competition is not a project that they could support.
The incident shows that disparities between rural and urban education still exist, experts said, and the country has vowed to bridge the gap.
Lack of funding
The team of four students from Jing'an Primary School in Rudong county, Jiangsu, won the first place in robot jousting in RoboRAVE Asia 2017, which was held in Beijing in February, Jiangsu-based Modern Express newspaper reported on March 12.
They beat rivals from professional clubs and elite schools in big cities of countries like China, Japan and India.
"I just wanted to broaden the children's horizon … and never thought we could win a place in the final," said Wang Yafei, a mathematics teacher in the school who was leading the team.
RoboRAVE Asia 2017 is part of Intel's RoboRAVE, an International robotics competition for teams of students from elementary school, high school and beyond high school to test their design skills in one or more events, according to the competition's official website.
Winners of RoboRAVE Asia would be qualified to attend the RoboRAVE International 2017 to be held in Medellin, Colombia in May.
However, the Jing'an students have to give up the opportunity to attend the event in Colombia because their school and families could not afford the cost - 43,000 yuan ($6,235) for each child, said the Modern Express.
The report soon sparked heated discussion online, with many people appealing to the authorities to help fulfill the dream of the children.
However, on March 13, the Rudong educational bureau said that the competition was not on the list of "competitions high school and primary school students could participate" released by the Jiangsu provincial education department in 2017.
"As we neither approved nor agreed with them joining (this competition), how can we support them financially?" a Rudong educational official told thepaper.cn on Tuesday.
Passion for science
It was not the first time that the robotics teams in Jing'an had won the first place in national or international competitions, nor the first time they had to give up the chance to go further.
Jing'an High School has given up the chance to join the RoboRAVE International twice, the Modern Express reported. "We have become used to that," Yuan Xiao, a teacher from Jing'an High School, told the newspaper.
According to the Modern Express, the robotics society in Jing'an Primary School was founded in 2015 by Wang. Now the society has more than 20 children who attend trainings on Friday and Sunday.
The costs for joining the competitions in the past years were mainly covered by students' parents. But this time, 43,000 yuan is roughly equal to the annual income of a village family, according to the Modern Express.
Jing'an Primary School's case also highlights the imbalance in the education resources available in rural and urban areas, Hu Xingdou, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, told the Global Times on Thursday.
China will carry out reforms to integrate compulsory education in urban and rural areas and improve education in rural areas, according to a circular issued by the State Council in July 2016. The reforms are set to reduce educational gap between urban and rural areas and coordinate compulsory education with urbanization at the county level by 2020, further improving the quality and balance in compulsory education, according to the website of the Chinese government.
"It is a great pity these rural students cannot fulfill their wish. China has vowed to build a creative nation, and the key is to foster the creativity of children," Hu said.
"It is not to say that the education department should pay for any interest of students, but robots and artificial intelligence have become the trend of science and technology education globally, which could change the world, so the government should support these kinds of projects," Hu noted.