BEIJING, Jan. 8 -- Senior high school education might soon be made free of cost for students in Kashgar, Hotan and Kezilesu Kirgiz prefectures, the three most underdeveloped regions in southern Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, officials said Wednesday.
The new move, which extends free education from the national standard of nine years to 12 years, aims to improve the overall education situation in the region, and prevent children from leaving school at a premature stage to be enticed by the "three forces" of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism, Zhao Dezhong, Party secretary of Xinjiang regional education bureau, said.
He said the free senior high school education scheme will follow a "two plus one" mode.
"Students will spend two years learning basic knowledge, and in the final year, they will receive occupational training, which will make them more competitive in the job market."
But he said the education plan, which will cost 3.5 billion yuan ($512 million), was still awaiting a final nod from the central government.
Zhao said the plan came in tandem with a slew of new measures taken by the government to strengthen the education investment in the autonomous region, where ethnic minorities account for about 60 percent of its entire population.
"In terms of maintaining social security and stability, the move is of strategic significance," he said.
Despite the government's iron-fisted clampdown, the "three forces" are still a threat to stability and social security, especially in the three regions, Zhao said.
On Aug 4 last year, two Kashgar natives attacked a group of border patrol officials and killed 16 of them.
Therefore, adequate school education is vitally important in the region, Zhao said.
He said due to poverty, underdevelopment and the lack of senior high school education resources, only about 24 percent students in the three regions continue with their studies after finishing junior high, less than half of Xinjiang's average.
However, after five years, the figure is expected to rise to 50 percent if the measure is implemented, Zhao said.
Cheng Zhenshan, Party secretary of Hotan prefecture, also sees the scheme as a fundamental cure to the region's underdevelopment.
"Last year, only 15 percent junior high graduates continued with their studies. We hope the figure could go up to 30 percent this year," he said.
"I believe with the help of free senior high education, the situation will be substantially better in the future."
Once the youngsters leave school early, they find nothing to do and become easy targets of the extremists, who maliciously implant hatred in their minds by deceiving and distorting reality, Zhao said.
In contrast, the free senior high school education will keep those youngsters, who are mainly 15 or 16 years old, in school for another 3 years, shaping their ideology and mentality stronger before they become adults and leave school.
"The benefits of extended education are life-long", Zhao said.