China on Tuesday introduced free education for 15 years for all high school students in the troubled Xinjiang province in a bid to wean away Uygur Muslim youngsters from the influence of radical Islam and militancy.
Almost 860,000 high school students in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region will receive free education, the regional education department said.
Tuition, textbook costs and accommodation fees will be waived for a total of 857,200 students studying in high schools as well as secondary vocational schools in Xinjiang.
Extra subsidies will be provided to students from poor families, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Xinjiang has been restive for several years over protests from Turkic-origin Uygur Muslims over the massive influx of Han Chinese from other areas into the resource-rich province.
The province was also hit by violent attacks over the years which China blames on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist outfit with links to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS).
China has introduced curbs like banning the burqa and beards in Xinjiang.
Chinese experts say the policy of free education not only showcases the government’s ability to bring practical benefits to people living in less developed areas, but will also help sway Xinjiang youth from falling under the influence of extremist elements.
“We should keep in mind that teens are teens no matter where they grow up in China. Xinjiang’s youth grow up in a more complicated situation,” La Disheng, a professor at the party school of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) Xinjiang regional committee, told state-run Global Times.
La said providing universal free education in Xinjiang will serve as a foundation for their pursuit of a good life, and in turn help build a better China in the decades to come.
Xinjiang has become China’s first provincial-level region to offer 15 years of free education from pre-school to high school.
Previously, the region built or expanded more than 4,400 kindergartens for free bilingual (Chinese and Uygur) education for over a million pre-schoolers in rural areas.
The regional government also earmarked 2.58 billion yuan (USD 390 million) to implement the policy in rural and less developed southern areas.