Elevated School Dropout Rates in Rural China

Summary

Children in the rural provinces of northern and western China face challenges in obtaining educational opportunities that could aid them in overcoming their poverty-ridden upbringing. These challenges come due to inherent inequalities between the rural and urban regions of China, which stem from a historical diversion of resources from the western to eastern provinces. The factors that specifically affect students and their families as they strive to attend school and gain a quality education are the lack of properly trained and motivated teachers, the high cost of schooling borne by families, the economic inequality of rural and urban provinces, the students’ family educational background and home environment, and migration of parents to urban areas. These inequalities lead to students dropping out of school before completion of compulsory education, being unprepared to take high school and college entrance exams, and being bound to poverty in a cycle of unskilled labor. The continual state of poverty for the rural population also hinders China’s hope to become a world economic power. Another, often hidden, repercussion is the continual drop out of minority children and the increased cultural stigmatization because of it. The current practices in place to mitigate these barriers to education and resultant premature dropout are the recruitment of short-term teachers, sponsoring students who are more at risk for dropping out or have dropped out, repairing and building schools, and advocating for policy change in the education sector at the local and central government levels.

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Key Terms

Compulsory education - Nine years of government-funded school, including six years in primary school and three years in junior high school, which students are required to attend under the Compulsory Education Law of China. 1

Opportunity cost for education - The cost of staying in school when there are opportunities to work in unskilled labor positions readily available. 2

Left-behind children - Students whose parents work in cities, but do not migrate with their parents. 3 These students are often cared for by grandparents at home and from afar by parents who send money, phone regularly, and return a few times during the year. 4

Inadequate return for investment - When the cost of tuition, books, clothing, stationery, exam fees, and extracurricular expenses exceeds the benefits of formal education because of poor quality of teaching and school facilities. 5

Hukou - Chinese household registration system. 6 “Until 2014 a person or household had either ‘agricultural/rural’ or ‘non-agricultural/urban’ hukou specific to a locale and was determined through family lineage on the mother’s side. This change to a unified hukou system is still being implemented in many regions and internal migration is still tightly controlled where only government-granted migration is possible. 7 8 A government sanctioned move involves a change of hukou status from the source to the destination local.” 9

Migrant - One who has left their hukou registration area for more than six months but less than four years. 10 “These rural-to-urban migrants (Nongmingong in Chinese) leave to work in urban areas as cheap manual laborers” but are rarely registered there, leaving them outside of the social welfare system. 11

Decentralization of funding - The designation of responsibility for education funding being transferred from the central government to local governments, first on the village or township level and then, after a reform in 2001, to the county level. 12

Child laborer - “A child laborer is defined as a child [under the age of 16] who works outside of the household for pay (cash or in kind), works in agriculture for the household, or works in a household business.” 13

Ethnic minority - An individual who is not ethnically Han Chinese. 14 The Han make up over 90% of China and Taiwan’s population and encompasses approximately 1.2 billion people, dwarfing the other 55 ethnic groups included in China’s population. 15

Low-level equilibrium trap - An economic condition where the per capita income is stable at or close to subsistence requirements and does not rise due to the growth in population exceeding the capital available for each worker. 16

Context

One of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals was to achieve universal primary education by 2015, a goal which China chose to take on through educational reforms to promote increased school enrollment and decrease the rate of dropping out. In the year 2000, China revised their Compulsory Education Law to make primary education a priority for all children and reduce dropout rates. 17 Following this revision, the Chinese government reported in 2014 that the enrollment of primary school age children was at 99.8%. However, enrollment rates for primary school age children and junior high school age students are often lower than reported. 18

High student dropout rates and decreased enrollment rates at each progressive level of education 19 are particularly prevalent in rural areas. 20 Statistics on the number of dropouts in rural China are recorded through surveys of students in these regions, as the national government does not accurately report dropout rates for these provinces. This form of reporting limits the ability to determine an aggregate number of dropouts for rural provinces, but is effective in showing a trend of students dropping out before entering senior high school and provides reasoning for students dropping out. 21 One such survey of rural provinces showed the dropout rate for primary school students in certain rural provinces was 4.4% and then increased to 22.7% for junior high students. 22 Another survey of 17 junior high schools in 14 rural counties revealed in some areas the dropout rate was close to 40%. 23 24 China’s “floating population,” consisting of families who move to urban areas and do not register in their new areas, makes it difficult to know how many children are attending school and how many have dropped out for other reasons. 25

To understand the issue in full, it is important to understand some circumstances that exist in China, including the difference between urban and rural areas, the state of the minority populations, the Chinese education system, and Chinese family culture.

Urban versus Rural China

Urban areas in China are identified as the eastern coastal provinces and rural areas are identified as the western and central provinces. 26 After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the provinces were divided and classified as either agricultural or non-agricultural, with their citizens registered accordingly. These registrations or labels are part of a registration system called the hukou. 27 Households with an agricultural hukou were required to give a portion of their agricultural output to the government and were denied the benefits offered to urban citizens at the time, such as ration tickets and social services. 28 The hukou is not a new system, but one that is deeply rooted in Chinese history, used by emperors to maintain social order. 29 The hukou system is still in place today, but with the economic reforms that are guiding the country toward a market-based system, families have begun to migrate to the urban areas seeking better job opportunities. Migration to a new area requires a formal change of hukou which must be filed with the government. The Chinese government maintains a strict control of internal migration making it difficult for families to apply for a change in hukou status, and many choose to migrate illegally. Families sometimes make the decision to move, even though they are unable to obtain social services outside of their registered hukou. 30 Over the past decade the Chinese population has migrated from predominantly rural to more urban areas. As of the end of 2018, around 60% of the population was living in an urban area. 31

Minorities in China

Drop-out rates in rural China are particularly high among ethnic minorities, in particular female ethnic minorities. 32 The population of China is composed of 56 ethnic groups including the majority Han group which comprises 91.51% of the population. 33 The dropout rates among this population have less to do with the economic viability of ethnic minorities attending school and more to do with the differences in culture present between the dominant Han Chinese culture, which is prevalent in schools, and ethnic minority culture. In addition to the possible clash in cultures, differences exist among minority groups with how much emphasis is put on the importance of education. Some minority families, instead of emphasizing the importance of education, may put greater emphasis on learning agricultural skills to be used for the family’s livelihood. 34 Ethnic minorities have the potential to benefit greatly from the years of compulsory education and have high returns on their educational investments, especially due to policies that aid their later high school and university admittance, yet they are often unable to complete those years of education. 35

Chinese Education System

The Compulsory Education Law of China requires students to attend nine government-funded years of school. 36 Chinese schools have an established, country-wide curriculum that is closely monitored by the state. 37 For this reason, Chinese children are required to attend state-run public schools and are restricted from attending international schools, which are established in larger cities for foreign students. 38 After junior high school, students can choose whether to attend senior high school or a vocational school. Those planning to attend senior high school are required to take an entrance exam which determines the caliber of high school they can attend.

Chinese Family Culture

The family structure in China is unique in that there are generally several generations living in the same home, with parents traditionally living with their son after he is married. Sons are valued as future providers for their spouse and children as well as for their parents—daughters do not have the same responsibilities. This perspective often means that families see any resources that the daughter utilizes as unnecessary because they will not be of benefit to the immediate family in the future. On this basis, educational opportunities are often prioritized for male children. Every year, two-thirds of the three million children in China who drop out before reaching middle school are girls. 39

The One Child Policy altered the perception of female education as parents began to allocate more resources towards the education of their child, regardless of their sex. This family-planning policy was implemented in 1979 and ended in 2016, requiring that parents only bear one child. The policy was amended in the mid-80s to allow rural families to try for a second child after a five year period if the first child was a girl. Third and fourth children were permitted for ethnic minorities and in underpopulated areas. 40 Research has shown that there is an educational advantage for both firstborn male and female children in China as more educational resources are allocated to them. 41 A study regarding the effect of sibling composition on education also showed that having an increased number of sisters had a positive correlation with higher educational attainment for males, who were given more educational resources than their sisters, and to a smaller extent females, who would have fewer brothers to compete with. 42

Contributing Factors

Family Environment

The opportunity cost for education in rural China is steadily increasing as families perceive an inadequate return for their investment in their children’s education. Families sometimes view education as an unwise investment due to poor quality and functionality of their education system. Parents may see their children struggling in school and see greater value in keeping the children at home to learn more practical skills having to do with agriculture or the family’s trade. 43

Many families struggle to provide the money and resources needed to send their children to school, despite an educational reform in 2006 to remove required payment of tuition and school fees from China’s compulsory education for things such as textbooks and housing. 44 Even though they do not have to fund tuition and fees, families still struggle to pay for adequate nutrition, books, clothing, stationary, exam fees, and any extracurricular activities like sports. 45 This can lead to eventual dropout—especially if families have more than one child they are trying to send to school. Research reveals 12% of informal loans taken out by rural households are used to pay for school related fees. If there is not a local school, a student’s only option may be to attend a boarding school in an area farther from home where boarding costs are too expensive for families to sustain. 46

With labor shortages for unskilled workers on the rise, wages for these workers have also risen which provides a tempting incentive for poor families in these regions to remove their children from school and send them to work as agricultural or factory laborers. 47 In a survey of both urban and rural households in China, the rural households were 6–9% more likely to have children working outside of the home. 48 Many families in rural areas must make difficult decisions about keeping their children in school. In many cases, children in elementary and middle school must make decisions for themselves based on the cost to their families and their expectations for future education and jobs. 49

Parents in rural areas are less likely to have received a formal education themselves, with many not having completed the now compulsory nine years of education. 50 51 These parents may be less likely to value the education of their own children or to possess the skills necessary to help their children with homework or school-related activities. 52 A mother’s degree of education is a strong determinant of whether children will stay in school longer. In a study conducted in the Gansu province of northwestern China, it was found that children of mothers with at least six years of primary education were estimated to attend 1.4 more years of school than their peers whose mothers had attended school for less time. Additionally, a mother’s attitude toward her child’s education and her expectation for their highest level of academic achievement were strong indicators of whether the child would stay in school longer—circumstances that are often not present among rural Chinese families. 53

Migration

Many rural residents migrate to urban areas for improved professional opportunities, which results in children either being left at home with little educational support or being taken out of school to migrate with their families to areas where they are unable to attend public school due to the strict hukou laws. The widening income gap between rural and urban areas, caused by the prosperity of the export-led economy in urban coastal areas, and the relaxation of some migration restrictions are main reasons for the increase in internal migration. 54 As a result of internal migration, just over 20 million children were left in rural areas in 2015 while parents worked in the city; nearly 14 million of these children were primary school age. 55 These children are often left in the care of grandparents who may not value education or have few resources to aid in their grandchildren’s education. 56

Some parents choose to bring their children with them to urban areas; however, because many of these parents are moving without applying for a change in hukou registration, they are doing so illegally. This process leaves approximately 210 million rural migrants living outside of their hukou who do not have access to pension, healthcare, public education, and other social services because they are not registered in the new city. 57 An estimated 20 million of these individuals are children between the ages of 6 and 14. 58 Children are only guaranteed free compulsory education in the hukou that they are registered in, so it is difficult for migrant children to attend public school in urban areas. This is made more difficult by the fact that schools only receive enough funding for the number of children who are registered in their hukou. 59 While some private companies have started their own schools for migrant children, they are not stable or guaranteed, which leaves migrant children with inconsistent opportunities for education. 60

Local Funding Inequality

Many students drop out in rural areas because of the poorer education quality which results from lower funding. The educational inequalities in rural China are rooted in the hukou system which unequally allocates resources to urban areas, especially eastern coastal cities. This pattern of resource allocation has caused a disparity in the fiscal resources available for local governments to fund the educational infrastructure in rural China. 61 Educational infrastructure inequalities in rural China such as schoolhouses left in disrepair, untrained teachers, and inadequate supplies for students all affect students’ desires to attend school as well as the willingness of parents to send their children to school. 62 The disrepair of school rooms, especially inadequate rain proofing, is a prevalent factor in students not attending school and eventually dropping out. 63

Lack of Teachers

Quality of education is greatly influenced by the presence of a consistent, qualified teacher in the classroom who is able to meet students’ needs. 64 Higher student-to-teacher ratios are detrimental to students' learning as they receive less one-on-one attention from teachers. 65 A law passed in China in1993 introduced an education reform called Jiaoshi Pinren Zhi (JPZ), a free contract education system which allowed teachers to choose where they would like to work instead of being assigned to a school. 66 As a result, teachers have left disadvantaged, rural areas to teach in richer, urban areas. 67 Many new graduates report they would prefer to work a part-time job in the city rather than accept a full-time position in a rural area. These new graduates are drawn to urban areas because the schools there receive more resources, urban areas have a higher quality of life, and there are more opportunities in urban areas for family members to be employed. 68 69 This lack of teachers in rural areas has necessitated some regional schools to have multi-grade classes, class sizes of over 100 in some junior high schools, and teachers taking on all subjects in primary schools. 70 This increased strain means teachers cannot provide adequate attention to every student. As a result, those who are already academically behind fall further behind their peers. For many in this situation, the most logical option is to drop out. 71

Inadequately Trained Teachers

Teachers’ inability to prepare students for the rigor of pivotal exams and higher educational opportunities causes families to lose motivation to keep their children in school since families see no real purpose in sending their children to school if the children will not be prepared to pass their exams. There is a marked variance between the amount of schooling teachers receive before teaching in rural schools versus those who teach in urban schools. In a 1997 survey of primary and junior high schools in six rural provinces, the mean percentage of primary school teachers with a post-secondary degree at the primary level was 54% and 88% at the junior secondary school level. The percentages also vary depending on the region. In the same survey, the rural province of Guizhou had a mean average of 28% of primary school teachers with a post-secondary degree while the urban province of Shaanxi had a mean average of 86% of primary school teachers with a post-secondary degree. 72 Overall, teachers in town and rural settings have consistently lower levels of education and higher pupil to teacher ratios than their urban counterparts. 73 In addition to employing teachers with less educational background than in urban areas, local governments in rural areas will often hire substitute teachers, who lack the training of a full-time teacher, to fill spots when full-time teachers are not available. 74

Additionally, teachers are often not trained to navigate cultural bias in the classroom. Minority students from farming backgrounds are often perceived as “poor students,” while those whose parents are government employees or teachers tend to be classified as “good students” with greater aptitude for passing exams and receiving a higher education. 75 Parents of minority children oppose formal education due to the trend of minority students not performing as well in school, the opposition to religious and cultural practices, and the language barrier for those whose native language is not Mandarin. 76 These biases against students and resultant parental disapproval of the education system make it far more likely for minority students to drop out of school and work to help support their families instead.

Consequences

Individual Poverty and National Economic Decline

Continued dropout among rural students leads to able children remaining uneducated and locked in a poverty trap. 77 Children stuck in cyclical poverty may be subject to a “lack of savings and of access to credit, absence of productive social networks,” and decreased local and global economic opportunities. 78 Generations caught in poverty cycles lead to a national economy being caught in a low-level equilibrium trap. 79 With whole communities in rural areas living in continued poverty, the wealth gap between the wealthiest and poorest provinces continues to grow. In 2018 the wealthiest province in China had an average GDP of 9.73 trillion yuan, roughly 1.38 trillion USD, while the poorest province of Tibet, located in China’s far west, had an average GDP of 147.8 billion yuan, roughly 21.01 billion USD. 80

The education gap between the urban and rural areas contributes to an overall inequality gap between the regions. 81 The Chinese see education as a means to achieving status as a first world country. 82 However, as more students drop out of school in rural areas they are unprepared to enter the higher-skilled labor force needed to increase the value of the Chinese economy and close the inequality gap between urban and rural regions. 83 Living in rural areas is often less desirable due to the less-developed infrastructure and fewer amenities when compared with urban areas, resulting in many professionals staying in urban areas following completion of their higher education.

Increasing Cultural Discrimination

Minority students, especially those from agrarian backgrounds, are often discriminated against in the classroom on the basis of a previously established pattern of high levels of minority student dropout. 84 Teachers who expect their students to do badly, based on their previously established biases, create a cycle of labeling minorities as poor students and do not give these students the resources and attention they need to succeed. The language barrier exists in some areas due to materials being published and taught in Mandarin, which is often not the first language of a minority child, and is perpetuated when minority students drop out and are further discriminated against because they didn’t learn Mandarin in their schooling. 85 This situation surrounding minorities in rural areas, and their tendency to drop out of school leads to a deepened divide between minority groups and the Han culture which pervades the educational, professional, and political spheres in China.

Decreased Professional Opportunities

Students from rural areas have a particularly challenging experience with getting into high school due to being unprepared to take the difficult entrance examination which discounts students from following a path to high-skilled positions. This tight control of the education system discourages creativity and relies heavily on standardized testing to determine excellence. It has become, what Zhao calls "the only path to social mobility.” 86 Students who do not do well on exams are often ostracized academically because they bring the school’s exam averages down, which leads many to withdraw due to the high stress and competitive nature of the school system. Students who do poorly on exams are considered to be underachieving and are denied opportunities for higher education and desirable vocations. 87 The predicament of students in rural areas being unable to compete in this standardized, test-driven world creates a vicious cycle of those living in rural areas being unable to rise in socioeconomic status because they are unable to attain the secondary and post-secondary education that is required to be competitive in the Chinese job market. 88

Students are often told that college will be their ticket out of poverty. However, because of the increased difficulty that students from rural areas have in attending institutions for higher learning, many are discouraged from even trying and end up persisting in unskilled positions that will not give them the ability to change their circumstances. 89 Additionally, a family’s hukou status can affect a student’s odds of attaining the best jobs. Those who hold urban hukou status are much more likely to gain white-collar employment and have a better chance of obtaining the right to a hukou transfer should they need to move. 90 These benefits and more are often denied to those who live in rural areas because of their shaky educational foundation and are unattainable for those who drop out in their middle school years. The persisting hierarchy of wealth, power, and urban status continues to propagate a viewpoint that rural students are less qualified and deserving of education and therefore highly skilled professional opportunities. 91

The outcome for female students with lower levels of education tends to be worse than for males. Studies show that for female students in rural areas, fewer years of formal education has a negative effect on career prospects which creates a discrepancy between the vision that the student has for their future and the resources to achieve their goals. This discrepancy causes many female students to have low self-worth and increased risk of suicide. A self-reported survey conducted in six secondary schools in rural Zhejiang province found that girls were twice as likely to commit suicide than male peers that were between the ages of 13 and 17. 92

Practices

Short-term Teacher Programs

Many countries have used or are currently using short-term teacher programs in under-resourced areas to fill gaps where no teachers are present and to give students role models for educational achievement. 93 Central and western areas of China are prime candidates to receive these recruited teachers, as many instructors leave these areas in pursuit of better opportunities in urban areas. 94 Both civil and government organizations in China have begun to look to short-term teacher programs as a way to encourage knowledge and skill sharing to youth living in rural areas in order to decrease the likelihood of dropout.

Teach for China is an organization that is foremost in this practice. Their strategy for improving rural education is to alleviate the teacher shortage and introduce local schools to different educational approaches. 95 Teach for China’s approach is to recruit, preferably local, elite college graduates to teach for at least two years in disadvantaged areas of China. These disadvantaged areas are generally rural, where the education infrastructure is not as strong. Teach for China provides training in teaching methods, classroom management, and goal setting that teachers take with them into the under-resourced areas and share with other teachers. Their partnership with Teach for All also gives the teachers opportunities to connect with teachers from around the world to discuss what does and does not work in the classroom. 96 Each partner in the Teach for All program has a shared model of recruiting and retaining future leaders from all academic disciplines, providing them with training and support and placing them for two years in classrooms as teachers. After the two year period, Teach for All supports their former teachers as education reform leaders. 97

Impact

Teach for China lists their outputs as placing 2,240 teachers in 318 elementary and middle schools, teaching 2,057,108 cumulative lessons to students, and benefitting a total of 542,008 students. 98 For outcomes in the classroom during the 2018–2019 school year, they reported that 52% of classes improved on average scores for major exams, 55% of classes improved the passing rate of major exams, and 61% of classes improved their scores in general on major exams, all with the presence of a Teach for China teacher. 99 This increase in exam score percentages is significant because of the importance of testing in the Chinese education system determining students’ future academic success and often their confidence in the value of staying in school. 100

Gaps

Though Teach for China details the successes they have had in helping students to increase exam scores in classes where their teachers have been placed, they fail to explain the extent to which their efforts are the cause of these higher test scores. It would also be helpful if they included information on the impact on students long-term, such as if they continue to have high test scores after leaving this teacher’s classroom, the effect on drop-out rate, and how many of the students in middle school go on to be admitted into high school.

Organizations such as Teach for All and its partner Teach for China often recruit recent college graduates who may or may not have a background in teaching. Teachers who are unfamiliar with the culture in rural areas may have difficulty in adapting to students’ needs and, if the teachers are not sufficiently trained, this may increase learning difficulties. This returns to the potential for a clash of culture between the majority Chinese culture and that of minorities. 101 Training has been identified as one of the main focus areas in determining the positive outcome of a short-term teacher program. Children taught by recruits who are licensed teachers prove to have better educational outcomes than those taught by teachers without teaching certificates. 102 A randomized control test (RCT) in a classroom with a teacher who has received their training and one who has not received their training could help Teach for China further measure their impact. Other areas of focus that have been found to correlate with program outcomes are quality of volunteers, screening, training, supervision of the agency, and cultural competency of the program. 103 These are all factors that Teach for All currently monitors, but do not measure for impact.

Providing Funding for Underprivileged Students

Organizations who are conscious of the lack of primary education—and particularly the education of females—are working to help these students have an opportunity to obtain a quality education by providing scholarships for students to attend primary school and beyond. 104 By investing in children’s early education, organizations attempt to mitigate the negative effects on self confidence and mental health sustained by students who receive fewer years of formal education. In addition to scholarships, there are other methods for providing the financial means to help children stay in school. One such method is Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs), which offer to pay parents a sum of money for every semester that their children are in school. Usually, this sum is equal to the amount of money that a child could earn, were they to work rather than attend school.The World Bank reports that more than 20 developing countries have implemented some form of CCT to help in the areas of health, education, or both. This method has been particularly successful in Latin American countries. 105

Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC) is an organization which provides scholarships on an annual basis to female students in greatest need living in some of China’s poorest provinces, including Guizhou, Qinghai and Gansu. In addition to financial support, the students are provided with career training and counseling. 106 The female students are chosen based on an interview held with their family to assess need. In order to receive a scholarship, the student’s family must be below the poverty line according to local standards and must fit the criteria of being either an orphan, child of a single parent with multiple children, child of a parent or parents with chronic illness or disability which preclude working, or child of a family with two or more children attending university or high school at the same time. Annual scholarships are provided for each of the selected students to cover all three years of their high school. Funds are transferred annually to students’ bank accounts and monthly to cover the cost of meals. 107

The Rural Education Action Program (REAP), is an organization based out of Stanford University that partners with universities, institutions, and teachers in China to conduct research on the education and health of rural Chinese populations. Their goal is to find the best ideas that the scientific community has to offer, prove these ideas through controlled trials, and then share the results with local, regional, and national policymakers in China who have the power to cause widespread implementation. REAP, in partnership with a group called Zigen, has implemented a CCT program in the ten junior high schools in the rural province of Shanxi. These CCTs serve as disposable income for the family that can help in meeting educational needs. It also reduces the opportunity costs for children who would otherwise feel the need to drop out of school and find a job—a common problem in China, as discussed. CCTs also signal to families that continued education has value and can improve their lives. 108

Impact

The EGRC seeks to help students one by one rather than working on systemic educational reform. Since 2005, the organization has sponsored 1,280 university and high school students. 109 In 2005 the organization began providing annual sponsorships of $1000 to $1500 USD to young women who wanted to attend university. This sponsorship covers 40–50% of total annual costs for the students, which they may use for tuition, living expenses, and other accommodations. The organization has sponsored 511 young women during their university studies and 366 of them have already graduated. 110 More recently, beginning in 2012, EGRC began to sponsor high school students, providing them with an annual sponsorship of $1000 USD which covers 90–100% of their annual school costs. EGRC is currently sponsoring 216 students for their three years of high school. 111 Many of these students then go to study and work in a variety of different locations in China. Through follow up with program participants, EGRC reports that approximately 40% of the EGRC alumni returned to their home provinces after graduation to serve as teachers, nurses, and local bank and government workers. Additionally, approximately 20% have gone on to obtain master’s and PhD degrees. 112 With these elevated degrees, many of the female students become the main source of financial support for their families after graduation. 113 As a result, they are treated more respectfully by their families and communities, and they have more say in family affairs. The founder of the organization says that the greatest result is that the way these female graduates educate their children will be vastly different from their parents’ generation. 114

REAP has also measured the ways they have interacted with and benefited students in Shanxi. They determined who the 300 poorest seventh grade students were out of 1,507 students. 115 Out of these 300 students, 150 of their families were randomly selected and offered a 500 renminbi (RMB) ($75 US) stipend, equivalent to one month’s factory wage, each semester that their child was enrolled for the next semester. 116 The other half of the students were not offered this stipend and the differences between the two groups were analyzed after one year. After one year of implementation of the RCT, REAP found that the group that received the 500 RMB CCT was 60% less likely to drop out of school. They were also 90% more likely to spend money on school supplies, 10% more likely to eat a nutritious diet, and 10% more likely to have a plan to continue education past junior high. 117

Gaps

The EGRC organization is currently only sponsoring female students in three provinces; there are no known requests to create a similar program in other provinces, even though there are many other provinces located in the central and western areas of China that could benefit from such a program. This organization also does not appear to measure the impact of their outputs on the communities; ERGC claims that their students experience a 99% graduation rate, but does not measure how its activities contribute to this percentage. 118 The organization does provide mentorship and vocational counseling for students, which they claim causes this high graduation rate, but there is not data to support this claim. They also do not measure how much of their efforts contribute to the female students returning to their provinces as professionals or to how many go on to receive master’s and PhD degrees, despite including these percentages on their website.

Neither the CCT programs implemented by REAP nor the scholarship program introduced by EGRC account for other factors contributing to drop-out rates, such as psychological factors, family expectations for education, or the fact that the quality of the schools and teachers themselves are not adequate to ensure the success of students. REAP is also currently only implementing this practice in the junior high schools of one province. With this limited reach, there is a gap in the amount of impact they are able to have nationwide.

Building and Repairing Schools

After the closure of many village schools due to lack of funding from local governments, the buildings are often forgotten and left to fall into disrepair. This leaves families questioning the quality of resources provided for their children’s education, and wondering whether those resources are adequate enough to justify keeping them in school. There are also rural areas, particularly mountainous regions, where students do not have access to a school, leaving students to either walk long distances to reach the nearest school or forego school and stay home. Organizations go into these communities and build and repair schools where they have fallen into disrepair or are located too far away.

The organization WE Villages partners with local governments to build and furnish more schools. They also work with local governments in these areas to provide communities with agriculture and food security programs, provide alternate opportunities for income such as animal husbandry to allow parents to stay in the countryside, provide health trainings and doctor visits, build sanitation facilities (which provide hygiene training), and work to provide clean sources of water for the community.

Impact

The organization’s outputs, to date, are building over 250 schoolrooms, including classrooms, libraries, teachers’ offices, and kitchens, as well as multi-story and multi-room buildings to accommodate large student populations. They have connected with 30 communities to aid local populations as described above. 119 WE lists their impact in rural China in five categories, including education, water, health, food security, and opportunity; however, specific data about these impacts is not reported. They state that as part of their educational impact, they are building more schools and education facilities so fewer children have to walk far distances to get to neighboring schools that are most likely over-crowded. 120

Gaps

Although WE has made it a goal to build more schools and facilities for children in rural China, they have neglected to consider other contributing factors for children not attending school, such as a lack of well-prepared teachers, family decisions to keep children at home for financial reasons, and the potential for cultural disagreement. 121 Another consideration is the community’s ability to continue to sustain a new building and facilities, as governments in rural areas are generally less able to raise funds for education than the urban, eastern provinces of China. 122 The organization claims building these schools will help more students attend school rather than staying home or engaging in child labor. However, they have not done the research necessary to see if the schools they have built actually combat these problems. They also state that providing more school buildings will help give education access to all and specifically will help decrease the gender gap between male and female students having access to education. 123 This claim is unfounded, as the gender gap between male and female students in school attendance is due largely to a cultural bias in favor of males rather than physical access to a school. Aside from the educational impact that they claim, the organization also does not provide details on the other areas of impact; water, health, food security, and opportunity are also contributing to the objective of having more students attend school.

Policy Change

Efforts to work harmoniously with the Chinese government to implement policy change to the education system is one of the most effective ways to ensure institutional transformation that can aid in keeping children in school. 124 Organizations who work in harmony with local governments to implement policies are more likely to help the target populations than those organizations who try to introduce change contrary to local interests. 125

The Rural Education Action Program (REAP) works to convert effective interventions into scalable social enterprises that can be adopted by the provincial and national governments. They also strive to build relationships with companies and media outlets in order to focus the attention of Chinese policymakers on key issues. 126 The organization approaches projects from either a top-down or bottom-up approach. Working with the national government in a top-down approach allows for policies to be introduced quickly and provides the opportunity for funding and policy to be given to local governments. A bottom-up approach allows the organization to work with local governments on finding solutions to specific problems and then to encourage local governments to share these potential solutions with national decision makers. 127

The Chinese government is also trying to alleviate the problem of teacher shortage in rural areas through policy change by recruiting retired instructors to return to teach in rural areas. China’s Ministry of Education has deemed this the “silver-age project,” and in May 2019 they planned to recruit 4,000 retired teachers to serve for at least one year in a rural area—teaching classes, giving lectures, giving training to local teachers, and assessing local teacher performance. 128

Impact

REAP designs all of their projects with upscaling and widespread implementation by the national government as the overall goal in mind. They work with the the national and provincial governments from idea conception, through data collection, and onward with follow up. They strive to follow a pattern of planning, research, implementation, and then evaluation of the intervention. REAP has successfully submitted 20 evidence-based policy briefs for implementation by the Chinese government. Each of these briefs is geared toward improving the education system or the child’s learning experience; impact would therefore be measured by the briefs’ effectiveness in doing so. For example, REAP published a brief in 2012 concerning the use of Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) as a method to help students in rural China complete needed remedial learning and to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas. REAP partnered with Dell Youth Connect to get the computers and software necessary to conduct the study for their brief on the effectiveness of CAL in rural schools. This brief allowed them to share the results of a study they conducted in 72 rural boarding schools which showed that third graders in the participating schools had increased their math standardized test scores by 0.18 standard deviations after participating in two 40-minute CAL math sessions per week for 13 weeks. Due to the success of the study reported on in the brief, local governments in rural provinces are allowing REAP to expand the program to other grade levels and to move the program from after school to being integrated into the school day. REAP uses the research they have found about CAL to aid China’s policy makers in integrating new technologies into the schools that need them most. This research worked in harmony with the Chinese government’s pledge to invest in updating the IT facilities in rural schools as part of their Twelfth Five Year Plan (2011–2015). 129

Gaps

The policy change briefs that are created by REAP take years to research and then time to publish the briefs and begin the process of petitioning for change in the government. If there was a way that the organization could establish some provisional measures in the interim, this would help in areas where students are dropping out the most. The organization also does not have much control over the implementation of the practices layed out in the policy briefs due to barriers present with Chinese governmental controls. Impact of these potential practices would likewise be difficult to measure due to the lack of access to data kept by the Chinese government.

Key Takeaways

  • China is divided into provinces which are classified by the hukou (housing registration system). Until 2014 each province had either an urban or rural status.
  • Since the 1940s, resources have been systematically channeled from the rural, western provinces of China to the more prosperous, coastal, eastern provinces to promote industrialization which has created an economic gap between the regions.
  • Funding for education began to be decentralized in the 1980s, leading to a further rift in the quality of education between urban and rural areas due to inadequate funding.
  • A law passed in 1993 allowed teachers, for the first time, to choose where they wanted to teach, leading to a “brain drain” of rural provinces as teachers departed for more promising opportunities in the cities.
  • The high cost of schooling, inadequately trained teachers, family’s educational background, migration of parents to cities, and the economic inequality between the rural and urban areas all contribute to a lower caliber of education in rural provinces.
  • Many students in rural areas drop out of school and may become child laborers to help support their families.
  • Students in rural areas are not as well-prepared to take high school and college entrance exams as their urban peers, which makes it unlikely that they will be able to compete for highly sought-after jobs.
  • There are practices in place including the short-term placement of teachers, financial support of at-risk students, building of new schools, and policy change initiatives which seek to alleviate the challenges students face in gaining an education.
by Mollie Bradley

Mollie recently graduated from BYU with her BS in Communication Disorders and a minor in Chinese. She will continue at BYU in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders in the hope of becoming a certified Speech Language Pathologist. Mollie became acquainted with the Chinese language and culture after living in Taiwan for 18 months and then in China for four months. It was while on her study abroad in China that she became aware of the disparities in education there and the lack of intervention available for individuals with speech and learning disorders. She is passionate about the idea that education can shape and change lives and she wants to work in her future career to help break down the barriers that individuals face in attaining a quality education both in the US and abroad.


Volume 2

EDUCATION
PUBLIC POLICY
CHINA
CHILDREN
7
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1 “Education in China - Statistics & Facts,” Statista, November 22, 2019, https://www.statista.com/topics/2090/education-in-china/#dossierSummary__chapter4.

2 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out: Why are Students Leaving Junior High in China's Poor Rural Areas?”International Journal of Educational Development 32, no.4 (2012): 556, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedudev.2011.09.002.

3 Yuanyuan Chen and Shuaizhang Feng, “Access to Public Schools and the Education of Migrant Children in China,” China Economic Review 26, (September 2013): 75–76, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2013.04.007.

4 Rachel Murphy, “Study and School in the Lives of Children in Migrant Families: A View from Rural Jiangxi, China,” Development & Change 45, no. 1 (January 2014): 31, http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?EbscoContent=dGJyMMvl7ESeqLc4yOvsOLCmsEiep7NSsK24SLeWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGuskyurK5IuePfgeyx43zx1%2B6B&T=P&P=AN&S=L&D=eoh&K=1428790.

5 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

6 Chuanbo Chen and C. Cindy Fan, "China's Hukou Puzzle: Why Don't Rural Migrants Want Urban Hukou?" China Review 16, no. 3 (2016): 11, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/634713.

7 Ibid.

8 Jason Young, China’s Hukou System: Markets, Migrants and Institutional Change, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 54–55.

9 Jing Liu and Chunbing Xing, "Migrate for Education: An Unintended Effect of School District Combination in Rural China," China Economic Review 40, (September, 2016): 195, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2016.07.003.

10 Liu and Xing, "Migrate for Education.”

11 Xu Huang et al., “Residential Mobility in China: home ownership among rural-urban migrants after reform of the hukou registration system,” Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 29, (2014): 616, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10901-013-9370-5.

12 Wen Wang and Zhirong Jerry Zhao, "Rural taxation reforms and compulsory education finance in China," Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management 24, no. 1 (2012): 136, https://doi.org/10.1108/JPBAFM-24-01-2012-B007.

13 Can Tang, Liqiu Zhao, and Zhong Zhao, “Child Labor in China,” China Economic Review 51, (October 2018): 151-152, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2016.05.006.

14 Baicai Sun and Jingjian Xu, "Why Ethnic Minority Children are More Likely to Drop Out of School: A Cultural Capital Perspective,"Chinese Education & Society 43, no. 5 (2010):31-32, https://doi.org/10.2753/CED1061-1932430502.

15 Thomas S. Mullaney et al., Critical Han studies: The History, Representation, and Identity of China's Majority, (Berkely: University of California Press, 2012), 1.

16 Richard R. Nelson, “A Theory of the Low-Level Equilibrium Trap in Underdeveloped Economies,” The American Economic Review 46, no. 5 (1956): 894, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1811910.

17 Meichen Lu, et al., “Who drops out from primary schools in China? Evidence from minority-concentrated rural areas,” Asia Pacific Education Review 17, no. 2 (2016): 235, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12564-016-9421-1.

18 Ibid.

19 “Number of students at elementary schools in China between 2008-2018,” Statista, November 1, 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/227034/number-of-students-at-elementary-schools-in-china/.

20 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

21 Lu, et al., “Who drops out from primary schools in China?”

22 Ibid.

23 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

24 Mitch Moxley, “China: Alarming School Dropout Rate Blamed on Teaching Methods,” Inter Press Service, June 30, 2010, http://www.ipsnews.net/2010/06/china-alarming-school-dropout-rate-blamed-on-teaching-methods/.

25 Chen and Feng, “Access to Public Schools.”

26 Sara G. Lam, Teach for America Goes to China: Teach for China, Educational Equity, and Public Sphere Participation in Education, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2017.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Young, China’s Hukou System.

30 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

31 “Population in China-Statistics & Facts,” Statista, March 11, 2020, https://www.statista.com/topics/1276/population-in-china/.

32 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

33 Mullaney et al., The History, Representation, and Identity of China's Majority.

34 Qian Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction: The Hidden Curriculum in Schoolroom Instruction in MInority-Nationality Areas,” Chinese Education and Society 40, no.2 (2007), 71, https://doi.org/10.2753/CED1061-1932400204.

35 Sun and Xu, "Why Ethnic Minority Children.”

36 “Education in China—Statistics & Facts,” Statistia, April 7, 2020, https://www.statista.com/topics/2090/education-in-china/#dossierSummary__chapter4.

37 Yong Zhao, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014),130.

38 “Education in China—Statistics & Facts.”

39 Cai Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time,” Sixth Tone, November 13, 2017, https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1001171/changing-rural-education-one-girl-at-a-time.

40 Therese Hesketh and Wei Xing Zhu, “Health in China: The one child family policy: the good, the bad, and the ugly,” BMJ 314 (1997): 1685–1686, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7095.1685.

41 Xiaoyan Lei et al, "Sibling gender composition’s effect on education: evidence from China," Journal of population economics 30, no. 2 (2017): 584, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-016-0614-z.

42 Ibid.

43 Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction.”

44 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

45 Ibid.

46 Philip H. Brown and Albert Park, “Education and poverty in rural China,” Economics of Education Review 20, (2002):537-540, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0272-7757(01)00040-1.

47 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

48 Tang, Zhao, and Zhao, “Child Labor in China.”

49 Brown and Park, “Education and poverty in rural China.”

50 Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time.”

51 Brown and Park, “Education and poverty in rural China.”

52 Ibid.

53 Meng Zhao and Paul Glewwe, “What Determines Basic School Attainment in Developing Countries? Evidence from Rural China,” Economic Education Review 29, no.3 (June 2010): 451, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2009.10.008.

54 Liu and Xing, "Migrate for Education.”

55 Yujuan Gao et al., "Parental Migration's Effects on the Academic and Non-Academic Performance of Left-Behind Children in Rural China," China Economist 14, no. 5 (2019): 68, DOI:10.19602/j.chinaeconomist.2019.9.07.

56 Ibid.

57 Chen and Feng, “Access to Public Schools.”

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

62 Brown and Park, “Education and poverty in rural China.”

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid.

66 Yin Cheong Cheng, Ya?Qing Mao, and Zhikui Niu, "Reforms on teachers' employment system and children's rights to education in China," International Journal of Educational Management 23. no. 1(2009): 7, https://doi.org/10.1108/09513540910926394.

67 Ibid.

68 Ibid.

69 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

70 Ibid.

71 Cheng, Mao, and Niu, "Reforms on teachers' employment system.”

72 Brown and Park, “Education and poverty in rural China.”

73 Cheng, Mao, and Niu, "Reforms on teachers' employment system.”

74 Ibid.

75 Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction.”

76 Ibid.

77 John Knight, Li Shi, and Deng Quheng, “Education and the Poverty Trap in Rural China: Setting the Trap,” Oxford Development Studies 37, no.4 (2009): 315, https://doi.org/10.1080/13600810903305232.

78 Ibid.

79 Nelson, “A Theory of the Low-Level Equilibrium Trap.”

80 “Gross domestic product (GDP) of China in 2018, by region,” Statista, February 6, 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/278557/gdp-of-china-by-region/.

81 Sue-Lin Wong, “China’s school dropouts a growing concern for economy in transition,” Reuters Business News, August 25, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-economy-labour/chinas-school-dropouts-a-growing-concern-for-economy-in-transition-idUSKCN1B50HM.

82 Xin Xiang, “My Future, My Family, My Freedom: Meanings of Schooling for Poor, Rural Chinese Youth,” Harvard Educational Review 88, no.1 (2018): 83, DOI:10.17763/1943-5045-88.1.81.

83 Wong, “China’s school dropouts a growing concern.”

84 Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction.”

85 Ibid.

86 Zhao, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon.

87 Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction.”

88 Zai Liang and Yiu Por Chen, “The Educational Consequences of Migration for Children in China,”Social Science Research 36, no. 1(March 2007), http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.532.1537&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

89 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

90 Young, China’s Hukou System.

91 Xiang, “My Future, My Family, My Freedom.”

92 Jason Hung, “Educational Investment and Sociopsychological Wellbeing Among Rural Chinese Women,” Inquiries Journal 10, no. 5 (2018), http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/a?id=1736.

93 Huiquan Zhou and Xinyuan Shang, “Short-Term Volunteer Teachers in Rural China: Challenges and Needs,” Frontiers of Education in China 6, (December 2011): 571-572, DOI 10.1007/s11516-011-0146-y.

94 Ibid.

95 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

96 “Vision and Model,” Teach For China, accessed September 19, 2019, http://tfchina.org/vision/index.html.

97 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

98 “Long-term Influence,” tfchina.org, Teach For China, accessed November 14, 2019, http://tfchina.org/effect/.

99 “Long-term Influence.”

100 Zhao, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon.

101 Sun and Xu, "Why Ethnic Minority Children.”

102 Zhou and Shang, “Short-term volunteer teachers in rural China.”

103 Ibid.

104 Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time.”

105 Rural Education Action Program, “Money for Matriculation: Conditional Cash Transfers to Reduce Junior High Dropouts in Rural China,”REAP Publications (Policy Brief #114), (2011), 7, https://fsi-live.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/REAP114-EN.pdf.

106 Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time.”

107 “Programs,” Educating Girls of Rural China, accessed November 16, 2019, https://egrc.ca/programs/.

108 Rural Education Action Program, “Money for Matriculation.”

109 “Achievements,” Educating Girls of Rural China, accessed July 11, 2020, https://egrc.ca/.

110 “Programs,” Educating Girls of Rural China.

111 Ibid.

112 “Alumni’s Success,” Educating Girls of Rural China, accessed July 11, 2020, https://egrc.ca/alumni-success/.

113 Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time.”

114 Ibid.

115 “Money for Matriculation: Conditional Cash Transfers to Reduce Junior High Dropouts in Rural China,” REAP Publications, Stanford, 2011, https://reap.fsi.stanford.edu/publications/reap_brief_114_money_for_matriculation_conditional_cash_transfers_to_reduce_junior_high_dropouts_in_rural_china.

116 Ibid.

117 Ibid.

118 “Our Students,” Educating Girls of Rural China, accessed November 16, 2019, https://egrc.ca/our-students/.

119 “Rural China,” WE, accessed September 19, 2019, https://www.we.org/en-CA/our-work/we-villages/countries-we-work-in/china.

120 Ibid.

121 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

122 Ibid.

123 “Rural China.”

124 “Policy Impact,” REAP Rural Education Action Program, accessed March 20, 2020. https://reap.fsi.stanford.edu/policy_impact.

125 Timothy Hildebrant, Social organizations and the authoritarian state in China, (New York:Cambridge University Press, 2013), 41.

126 “Policy Impact.”

127 Ibid.

128 “China to recruit retired teachers to rural schools,” Ministry of Education: The People’s Republic of China, May 3, 2019, http://en.moe.gov.cn/news/media_highlights/201905/t20190505_380574.html.

129 REAP, “Computers as Tutors? Leveraging PCs to Advance Learning in China’s Rural Schools,” REAP Publications (REAP Brief #116), (2012): 12, https://fsi-live.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/REAP116-EN.pdf.

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Elevated School Dropout Rates in Rural China

Summary

Children in the rural provinces of northern and western China face challenges in obtaining educational opportunities that could aid them in overcoming their poverty-ridden upbringing. These challenges come due to inherent inequalities between the rural and urban regions of China, which stem from a historical diversion of resources from the western to eastern provinces. The factors that specifically affect students and their families as they strive to attend school and gain a quality education are the lack of properly trained and motivated teachers, the high cost of schooling borne by families, the economic inequality of rural and urban provinces, the students’ family educational background and home environment, and migration of parents to urban areas. These inequalities lead to students dropping out of school before completion of compulsory education, being unprepared to take high school and college entrance exams, and being bound to poverty in a cycle of unskilled labor. The continual state of poverty for the rural population also hinders China’s hope to become a world economic power. Another, often hidden, repercussion is the continual drop out of minority children and the increased cultural stigmatization because of it. The current practices in place to mitigate these barriers to education and resultant premature dropout are the recruitment of short-term teachers, sponsoring students who are more at risk for dropping out or have dropped out, repairing and building schools, and advocating for policy change in the education sector at the local and central government levels.

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Key Terms

Compulsory education - Nine years of government-funded school, including six years in primary school and three years in junior high school, which students are required to attend under the Compulsory Education Law of China. 1

Opportunity cost for education - The cost of staying in school when there are opportunities to work in unskilled labor positions readily available. 2

Left-behind children - Students whose parents work in cities, but do not migrate with their parents. 3 These students are often cared for by grandparents at home and from afar by parents who send money, phone regularly, and return a few times during the year. 4

Inadequate return for investment - When the cost of tuition, books, clothing, stationery, exam fees, and extracurricular expenses exceeds the benefits of formal education because of poor quality of teaching and school facilities. 5

Hukou - Chinese household registration system. 6 “Until 2014 a person or household had either ‘agricultural/rural’ or ‘non-agricultural/urban’ hukou specific to a locale and was determined through family lineage on the mother’s side. This change to a unified hukou system is still being implemented in many regions and internal migration is still tightly controlled where only government-granted migration is possible. 7 8 A government sanctioned move involves a change of hukou status from the source to the destination local.” 9

Migrant - One who has left their hukou registration area for more than six months but less than four years. 10 “These rural-to-urban migrants (Nongmingong in Chinese) leave to work in urban areas as cheap manual laborers” but are rarely registered there, leaving them outside of the social welfare system. 11

Decentralization of funding - The designation of responsibility for education funding being transferred from the central government to local governments, first on the village or township level and then, after a reform in 2001, to the county level. 12

Child laborer - “A child laborer is defined as a child [under the age of 16] who works outside of the household for pay (cash or in kind), works in agriculture for the household, or works in a household business.” 13

Ethnic minority - An individual who is not ethnically Han Chinese. 14 The Han make up over 90% of China and Taiwan’s population and encompasses approximately 1.2 billion people, dwarfing the other 55 ethnic groups included in China’s population. 15

Low-level equilibrium trap - An economic condition where the per capita income is stable at or close to subsistence requirements and does not rise due to the growth in population exceeding the capital available for each worker. 16

Context

One of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals was to achieve universal primary education by 2015, a goal which China chose to take on through educational reforms to promote increased school enrollment and decrease the rate of dropping out. In the year 2000, China revised their Compulsory Education Law to make primary education a priority for all children and reduce dropout rates. 17 Following this revision, the Chinese government reported in 2014 that the enrollment of primary school age children was at 99.8%. However, enrollment rates for primary school age children and junior high school age students are often lower than reported. 18

High student dropout rates and decreased enrollment rates at each progressive level of education 19 are particularly prevalent in rural areas. 20 Statistics on the number of dropouts in rural China are recorded through surveys of students in these regions, as the national government does not accurately report dropout rates for these provinces. This form of reporting limits the ability to determine an aggregate number of dropouts for rural provinces, but is effective in showing a trend of students dropping out before entering senior high school and provides reasoning for students dropping out. 21 One such survey of rural provinces showed the dropout rate for primary school students in certain rural provinces was 4.4% and then increased to 22.7% for junior high students. 22 Another survey of 17 junior high schools in 14 rural counties revealed in some areas the dropout rate was close to 40%. 23 24 China’s “floating population,” consisting of families who move to urban areas and do not register in their new areas, makes it difficult to know how many children are attending school and how many have dropped out for other reasons. 25

To understand the issue in full, it is important to understand some circumstances that exist in China, including the difference between urban and rural areas, the state of the minority populations, the Chinese education system, and Chinese family culture.

Urban versus Rural China

Urban areas in China are identified as the eastern coastal provinces and rural areas are identified as the western and central provinces. 26 After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the provinces were divided and classified as either agricultural or non-agricultural, with their citizens registered accordingly. These registrations or labels are part of a registration system called the hukou. 27 Households with an agricultural hukou were required to give a portion of their agricultural output to the government and were denied the benefits offered to urban citizens at the time, such as ration tickets and social services. 28 The hukou is not a new system, but one that is deeply rooted in Chinese history, used by emperors to maintain social order. 29 The hukou system is still in place today, but with the economic reforms that are guiding the country toward a market-based system, families have begun to migrate to the urban areas seeking better job opportunities. Migration to a new area requires a formal change of hukou which must be filed with the government. The Chinese government maintains a strict control of internal migration making it difficult for families to apply for a change in hukou status, and many choose to migrate illegally. Families sometimes make the decision to move, even though they are unable to obtain social services outside of their registered hukou. 30 Over the past decade the Chinese population has migrated from predominantly rural to more urban areas. As of the end of 2018, around 60% of the population was living in an urban area. 31

Minorities in China

Drop-out rates in rural China are particularly high among ethnic minorities, in particular female ethnic minorities. 32 The population of China is composed of 56 ethnic groups including the majority Han group which comprises 91.51% of the population. 33 The dropout rates among this population have less to do with the economic viability of ethnic minorities attending school and more to do with the differences in culture present between the dominant Han Chinese culture, which is prevalent in schools, and ethnic minority culture. In addition to the possible clash in cultures, differences exist among minority groups with how much emphasis is put on the importance of education. Some minority families, instead of emphasizing the importance of education, may put greater emphasis on learning agricultural skills to be used for the family’s livelihood. 34 Ethnic minorities have the potential to benefit greatly from the years of compulsory education and have high returns on their educational investments, especially due to policies that aid their later high school and university admittance, yet they are often unable to complete those years of education. 35

Chinese Education System

The Compulsory Education Law of China requires students to attend nine government-funded years of school. 36 Chinese schools have an established, country-wide curriculum that is closely monitored by the state. 37 For this reason, Chinese children are required to attend state-run public schools and are restricted from attending international schools, which are established in larger cities for foreign students. 38 After junior high school, students can choose whether to attend senior high school or a vocational school. Those planning to attend senior high school are required to take an entrance exam which determines the caliber of high school they can attend.

Chinese Family Culture

The family structure in China is unique in that there are generally several generations living in the same home, with parents traditionally living with their son after he is married. Sons are valued as future providers for their spouse and children as well as for their parents—daughters do not have the same responsibilities. This perspective often means that families see any resources that the daughter utilizes as unnecessary because they will not be of benefit to the immediate family in the future. On this basis, educational opportunities are often prioritized for male children. Every year, two-thirds of the three million children in China who drop out before reaching middle school are girls. 39

The One Child Policy altered the perception of female education as parents began to allocate more resources towards the education of their child, regardless of their sex. This family-planning policy was implemented in 1979 and ended in 2016, requiring that parents only bear one child. The policy was amended in the mid-80s to allow rural families to try for a second child after a five year period if the first child was a girl. Third and fourth children were permitted for ethnic minorities and in underpopulated areas. 40 Research has shown that there is an educational advantage for both firstborn male and female children in China as more educational resources are allocated to them. 41 A study regarding the effect of sibling composition on education also showed that having an increased number of sisters had a positive correlation with higher educational attainment for males, who were given more educational resources than their sisters, and to a smaller extent females, who would have fewer brothers to compete with. 42

Contributing Factors

Family Environment

The opportunity cost for education in rural China is steadily increasing as families perceive an inadequate return for their investment in their children’s education. Families sometimes view education as an unwise investment due to poor quality and functionality of their education system. Parents may see their children struggling in school and see greater value in keeping the children at home to learn more practical skills having to do with agriculture or the family’s trade. 43

Many families struggle to provide the money and resources needed to send their children to school, despite an educational reform in 2006 to remove required payment of tuition and school fees from China’s compulsory education for things such as textbooks and housing. 44 Even though they do not have to fund tuition and fees, families still struggle to pay for adequate nutrition, books, clothing, stationary, exam fees, and any extracurricular activities like sports. 45 This can lead to eventual dropout—especially if families have more than one child they are trying to send to school. Research reveals 12% of informal loans taken out by rural households are used to pay for school related fees. If there is not a local school, a student’s only option may be to attend a boarding school in an area farther from home where boarding costs are too expensive for families to sustain. 46

With labor shortages for unskilled workers on the rise, wages for these workers have also risen which provides a tempting incentive for poor families in these regions to remove their children from school and send them to work as agricultural or factory laborers. 47 In a survey of both urban and rural households in China, the rural households were 6–9% more likely to have children working outside of the home. 48 Many families in rural areas must make difficult decisions about keeping their children in school. In many cases, children in elementary and middle school must make decisions for themselves based on the cost to their families and their expectations for future education and jobs. 49

Parents in rural areas are less likely to have received a formal education themselves, with many not having completed the now compulsory nine years of education. 50 51 These parents may be less likely to value the education of their own children or to possess the skills necessary to help their children with homework or school-related activities. 52 A mother’s degree of education is a strong determinant of whether children will stay in school longer. In a study conducted in the Gansu province of northwestern China, it was found that children of mothers with at least six years of primary education were estimated to attend 1.4 more years of school than their peers whose mothers had attended school for less time. Additionally, a mother’s attitude toward her child’s education and her expectation for their highest level of academic achievement were strong indicators of whether the child would stay in school longer—circumstances that are often not present among rural Chinese families. 53

Migration

Many rural residents migrate to urban areas for improved professional opportunities, which results in children either being left at home with little educational support or being taken out of school to migrate with their families to areas where they are unable to attend public school due to the strict hukou laws. The widening income gap between rural and urban areas, caused by the prosperity of the export-led economy in urban coastal areas, and the relaxation of some migration restrictions are main reasons for the increase in internal migration. 54 As a result of internal migration, just over 20 million children were left in rural areas in 2015 while parents worked in the city; nearly 14 million of these children were primary school age. 55 These children are often left in the care of grandparents who may not value education or have few resources to aid in their grandchildren’s education. 56

Some parents choose to bring their children with them to urban areas; however, because many of these parents are moving without applying for a change in hukou registration, they are doing so illegally. This process leaves approximately 210 million rural migrants living outside of their hukou who do not have access to pension, healthcare, public education, and other social services because they are not registered in the new city. 57 An estimated 20 million of these individuals are children between the ages of 6 and 14. 58 Children are only guaranteed free compulsory education in the hukou that they are registered in, so it is difficult for migrant children to attend public school in urban areas. This is made more difficult by the fact that schools only receive enough funding for the number of children who are registered in their hukou. 59 While some private companies have started their own schools for migrant children, they are not stable or guaranteed, which leaves migrant children with inconsistent opportunities for education. 60

Local Funding Inequality

Many students drop out in rural areas because of the poorer education quality which results from lower funding. The educational inequalities in rural China are rooted in the hukou system which unequally allocates resources to urban areas, especially eastern coastal cities. This pattern of resource allocation has caused a disparity in the fiscal resources available for local governments to fund the educational infrastructure in rural China. 61 Educational infrastructure inequalities in rural China such as schoolhouses left in disrepair, untrained teachers, and inadequate supplies for students all affect students’ desires to attend school as well as the willingness of parents to send their children to school. 62 The disrepair of school rooms, especially inadequate rain proofing, is a prevalent factor in students not attending school and eventually dropping out. 63

Lack of Teachers

Quality of education is greatly influenced by the presence of a consistent, qualified teacher in the classroom who is able to meet students’ needs. 64 Higher student-to-teacher ratios are detrimental to students' learning as they receive less one-on-one attention from teachers. 65 A law passed in China in1993 introduced an education reform called Jiaoshi Pinren Zhi (JPZ), a free contract education system which allowed teachers to choose where they would like to work instead of being assigned to a school. 66 As a result, teachers have left disadvantaged, rural areas to teach in richer, urban areas. 67 Many new graduates report they would prefer to work a part-time job in the city rather than accept a full-time position in a rural area. These new graduates are drawn to urban areas because the schools there receive more resources, urban areas have a higher quality of life, and there are more opportunities in urban areas for family members to be employed. 68 69 This lack of teachers in rural areas has necessitated some regional schools to have multi-grade classes, class sizes of over 100 in some junior high schools, and teachers taking on all subjects in primary schools. 70 This increased strain means teachers cannot provide adequate attention to every student. As a result, those who are already academically behind fall further behind their peers. For many in this situation, the most logical option is to drop out. 71

Inadequately Trained Teachers

Teachers’ inability to prepare students for the rigor of pivotal exams and higher educational opportunities causes families to lose motivation to keep their children in school since families see no real purpose in sending their children to school if the children will not be prepared to pass their exams. There is a marked variance between the amount of schooling teachers receive before teaching in rural schools versus those who teach in urban schools. In a 1997 survey of primary and junior high schools in six rural provinces, the mean percentage of primary school teachers with a post-secondary degree at the primary level was 54% and 88% at the junior secondary school level. The percentages also vary depending on the region. In the same survey, the rural province of Guizhou had a mean average of 28% of primary school teachers with a post-secondary degree while the urban province of Shaanxi had a mean average of 86% of primary school teachers with a post-secondary degree. 72 Overall, teachers in town and rural settings have consistently lower levels of education and higher pupil to teacher ratios than their urban counterparts. 73 In addition to employing teachers with less educational background than in urban areas, local governments in rural areas will often hire substitute teachers, who lack the training of a full-time teacher, to fill spots when full-time teachers are not available. 74

Additionally, teachers are often not trained to navigate cultural bias in the classroom. Minority students from farming backgrounds are often perceived as “poor students,” while those whose parents are government employees or teachers tend to be classified as “good students” with greater aptitude for passing exams and receiving a higher education. 75 Parents of minority children oppose formal education due to the trend of minority students not performing as well in school, the opposition to religious and cultural practices, and the language barrier for those whose native language is not Mandarin. 76 These biases against students and resultant parental disapproval of the education system make it far more likely for minority students to drop out of school and work to help support their families instead.

Consequences

Individual Poverty and National Economic Decline

Continued dropout among rural students leads to able children remaining uneducated and locked in a poverty trap. 77 Children stuck in cyclical poverty may be subject to a “lack of savings and of access to credit, absence of productive social networks,” and decreased local and global economic opportunities. 78 Generations caught in poverty cycles lead to a national economy being caught in a low-level equilibrium trap. 79 With whole communities in rural areas living in continued poverty, the wealth gap between the wealthiest and poorest provinces continues to grow. In 2018 the wealthiest province in China had an average GDP of 9.73 trillion yuan, roughly 1.38 trillion USD, while the poorest province of Tibet, located in China’s far west, had an average GDP of 147.8 billion yuan, roughly 21.01 billion USD. 80

The education gap between the urban and rural areas contributes to an overall inequality gap between the regions. 81 The Chinese see education as a means to achieving status as a first world country. 82 However, as more students drop out of school in rural areas they are unprepared to enter the higher-skilled labor force needed to increase the value of the Chinese economy and close the inequality gap between urban and rural regions. 83 Living in rural areas is often less desirable due to the less-developed infrastructure and fewer amenities when compared with urban areas, resulting in many professionals staying in urban areas following completion of their higher education.

Increasing Cultural Discrimination

Minority students, especially those from agrarian backgrounds, are often discriminated against in the classroom on the basis of a previously established pattern of high levels of minority student dropout. 84 Teachers who expect their students to do badly, based on their previously established biases, create a cycle of labeling minorities as poor students and do not give these students the resources and attention they need to succeed. The language barrier exists in some areas due to materials being published and taught in Mandarin, which is often not the first language of a minority child, and is perpetuated when minority students drop out and are further discriminated against because they didn’t learn Mandarin in their schooling. 85 This situation surrounding minorities in rural areas, and their tendency to drop out of school leads to a deepened divide between minority groups and the Han culture which pervades the educational, professional, and political spheres in China.

Decreased Professional Opportunities

Students from rural areas have a particularly challenging experience with getting into high school due to being unprepared to take the difficult entrance examination which discounts students from following a path to high-skilled positions. This tight control of the education system discourages creativity and relies heavily on standardized testing to determine excellence. It has become, what Zhao calls "the only path to social mobility.” 86 Students who do not do well on exams are often ostracized academically because they bring the school’s exam averages down, which leads many to withdraw due to the high stress and competitive nature of the school system. Students who do poorly on exams are considered to be underachieving and are denied opportunities for higher education and desirable vocations. 87 The predicament of students in rural areas being unable to compete in this standardized, test-driven world creates a vicious cycle of those living in rural areas being unable to rise in socioeconomic status because they are unable to attain the secondary and post-secondary education that is required to be competitive in the Chinese job market. 88

Students are often told that college will be their ticket out of poverty. However, because of the increased difficulty that students from rural areas have in attending institutions for higher learning, many are discouraged from even trying and end up persisting in unskilled positions that will not give them the ability to change their circumstances. 89 Additionally, a family’s hukou status can affect a student’s odds of attaining the best jobs. Those who hold urban hukou status are much more likely to gain white-collar employment and have a better chance of obtaining the right to a hukou transfer should they need to move. 90 These benefits and more are often denied to those who live in rural areas because of their shaky educational foundation and are unattainable for those who drop out in their middle school years. The persisting hierarchy of wealth, power, and urban status continues to propagate a viewpoint that rural students are less qualified and deserving of education and therefore highly skilled professional opportunities. 91

The outcome for female students with lower levels of education tends to be worse than for males. Studies show that for female students in rural areas, fewer years of formal education has a negative effect on career prospects which creates a discrepancy between the vision that the student has for their future and the resources to achieve their goals. This discrepancy causes many female students to have low self-worth and increased risk of suicide. A self-reported survey conducted in six secondary schools in rural Zhejiang province found that girls were twice as likely to commit suicide than male peers that were between the ages of 13 and 17. 92

Practices

Short-term Teacher Programs

Many countries have used or are currently using short-term teacher programs in under-resourced areas to fill gaps where no teachers are present and to give students role models for educational achievement. 93 Central and western areas of China are prime candidates to receive these recruited teachers, as many instructors leave these areas in pursuit of better opportunities in urban areas. 94 Both civil and government organizations in China have begun to look to short-term teacher programs as a way to encourage knowledge and skill sharing to youth living in rural areas in order to decrease the likelihood of dropout.

Teach for China is an organization that is foremost in this practice. Their strategy for improving rural education is to alleviate the teacher shortage and introduce local schools to different educational approaches. 95 Teach for China’s approach is to recruit, preferably local, elite college graduates to teach for at least two years in disadvantaged areas of China. These disadvantaged areas are generally rural, where the education infrastructure is not as strong. Teach for China provides training in teaching methods, classroom management, and goal setting that teachers take with them into the under-resourced areas and share with other teachers. Their partnership with Teach for All also gives the teachers opportunities to connect with teachers from around the world to discuss what does and does not work in the classroom. 96 Each partner in the Teach for All program has a shared model of recruiting and retaining future leaders from all academic disciplines, providing them with training and support and placing them for two years in classrooms as teachers. After the two year period, Teach for All supports their former teachers as education reform leaders. 97

Impact

Teach for China lists their outputs as placing 2,240 teachers in 318 elementary and middle schools, teaching 2,057,108 cumulative lessons to students, and benefitting a total of 542,008 students. 98 For outcomes in the classroom during the 2018–2019 school year, they reported that 52% of classes improved on average scores for major exams, 55% of classes improved the passing rate of major exams, and 61% of classes improved their scores in general on major exams, all with the presence of a Teach for China teacher. 99 This increase in exam score percentages is significant because of the importance of testing in the Chinese education system determining students’ future academic success and often their confidence in the value of staying in school. 100

Gaps

Though Teach for China details the successes they have had in helping students to increase exam scores in classes where their teachers have been placed, they fail to explain the extent to which their efforts are the cause of these higher test scores. It would also be helpful if they included information on the impact on students long-term, such as if they continue to have high test scores after leaving this teacher’s classroom, the effect on drop-out rate, and how many of the students in middle school go on to be admitted into high school.

Organizations such as Teach for All and its partner Teach for China often recruit recent college graduates who may or may not have a background in teaching. Teachers who are unfamiliar with the culture in rural areas may have difficulty in adapting to students’ needs and, if the teachers are not sufficiently trained, this may increase learning difficulties. This returns to the potential for a clash of culture between the majority Chinese culture and that of minorities. 101 Training has been identified as one of the main focus areas in determining the positive outcome of a short-term teacher program. Children taught by recruits who are licensed teachers prove to have better educational outcomes than those taught by teachers without teaching certificates. 102 A randomized control test (RCT) in a classroom with a teacher who has received their training and one who has not received their training could help Teach for China further measure their impact. Other areas of focus that have been found to correlate with program outcomes are quality of volunteers, screening, training, supervision of the agency, and cultural competency of the program. 103 These are all factors that Teach for All currently monitors, but do not measure for impact.

Providing Funding for Underprivileged Students

Organizations who are conscious of the lack of primary education—and particularly the education of females—are working to help these students have an opportunity to obtain a quality education by providing scholarships for students to attend primary school and beyond. 104 By investing in children’s early education, organizations attempt to mitigate the negative effects on self confidence and mental health sustained by students who receive fewer years of formal education. In addition to scholarships, there are other methods for providing the financial means to help children stay in school. One such method is Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs), which offer to pay parents a sum of money for every semester that their children are in school. Usually, this sum is equal to the amount of money that a child could earn, were they to work rather than attend school.The World Bank reports that more than 20 developing countries have implemented some form of CCT to help in the areas of health, education, or both. This method has been particularly successful in Latin American countries. 105

Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC) is an organization which provides scholarships on an annual basis to female students in greatest need living in some of China’s poorest provinces, including Guizhou, Qinghai and Gansu. In addition to financial support, the students are provided with career training and counseling. 106 The female students are chosen based on an interview held with their family to assess need. In order to receive a scholarship, the student’s family must be below the poverty line according to local standards and must fit the criteria of being either an orphan, child of a single parent with multiple children, child of a parent or parents with chronic illness or disability which preclude working, or child of a family with two or more children attending university or high school at the same time. Annual scholarships are provided for each of the selected students to cover all three years of their high school. Funds are transferred annually to students’ bank accounts and monthly to cover the cost of meals. 107

The Rural Education Action Program (REAP), is an organization based out of Stanford University that partners with universities, institutions, and teachers in China to conduct research on the education and health of rural Chinese populations. Their goal is to find the best ideas that the scientific community has to offer, prove these ideas through controlled trials, and then share the results with local, regional, and national policymakers in China who have the power to cause widespread implementation. REAP, in partnership with a group called Zigen, has implemented a CCT program in the ten junior high schools in the rural province of Shanxi. These CCTs serve as disposable income for the family that can help in meeting educational needs. It also reduces the opportunity costs for children who would otherwise feel the need to drop out of school and find a job—a common problem in China, as discussed. CCTs also signal to families that continued education has value and can improve their lives. 108

Impact

The EGRC seeks to help students one by one rather than working on systemic educational reform. Since 2005, the organization has sponsored 1,280 university and high school students. 109 In 2005 the organization began providing annual sponsorships of $1000 to $1500 USD to young women who wanted to attend university. This sponsorship covers 40–50% of total annual costs for the students, which they may use for tuition, living expenses, and other accommodations. The organization has sponsored 511 young women during their university studies and 366 of them have already graduated. 110 More recently, beginning in 2012, EGRC began to sponsor high school students, providing them with an annual sponsorship of $1000 USD which covers 90–100% of their annual school costs. EGRC is currently sponsoring 216 students for their three years of high school. 111 Many of these students then go to study and work in a variety of different locations in China. Through follow up with program participants, EGRC reports that approximately 40% of the EGRC alumni returned to their home provinces after graduation to serve as teachers, nurses, and local bank and government workers. Additionally, approximately 20% have gone on to obtain master’s and PhD degrees. 112 With these elevated degrees, many of the female students become the main source of financial support for their families after graduation. 113 As a result, they are treated more respectfully by their families and communities, and they have more say in family affairs. The founder of the organization says that the greatest result is that the way these female graduates educate their children will be vastly different from their parents’ generation. 114

REAP has also measured the ways they have interacted with and benefited students in Shanxi. They determined who the 300 poorest seventh grade students were out of 1,507 students. 115 Out of these 300 students, 150 of their families were randomly selected and offered a 500 renminbi (RMB) ($75 US) stipend, equivalent to one month’s factory wage, each semester that their child was enrolled for the next semester. 116 The other half of the students were not offered this stipend and the differences between the two groups were analyzed after one year. After one year of implementation of the RCT, REAP found that the group that received the 500 RMB CCT was 60% less likely to drop out of school. They were also 90% more likely to spend money on school supplies, 10% more likely to eat a nutritious diet, and 10% more likely to have a plan to continue education past junior high. 117

Gaps

The EGRC organization is currently only sponsoring female students in three provinces; there are no known requests to create a similar program in other provinces, even though there are many other provinces located in the central and western areas of China that could benefit from such a program. This organization also does not appear to measure the impact of their outputs on the communities; ERGC claims that their students experience a 99% graduation rate, but does not measure how its activities contribute to this percentage. 118 The organization does provide mentorship and vocational counseling for students, which they claim causes this high graduation rate, but there is not data to support this claim. They also do not measure how much of their efforts contribute to the female students returning to their provinces as professionals or to how many go on to receive master’s and PhD degrees, despite including these percentages on their website.

Neither the CCT programs implemented by REAP nor the scholarship program introduced by EGRC account for other factors contributing to drop-out rates, such as psychological factors, family expectations for education, or the fact that the quality of the schools and teachers themselves are not adequate to ensure the success of students. REAP is also currently only implementing this practice in the junior high schools of one province. With this limited reach, there is a gap in the amount of impact they are able to have nationwide.

Building and Repairing Schools

After the closure of many village schools due to lack of funding from local governments, the buildings are often forgotten and left to fall into disrepair. This leaves families questioning the quality of resources provided for their children’s education, and wondering whether those resources are adequate enough to justify keeping them in school. There are also rural areas, particularly mountainous regions, where students do not have access to a school, leaving students to either walk long distances to reach the nearest school or forego school and stay home. Organizations go into these communities and build and repair schools where they have fallen into disrepair or are located too far away.

The organization WE Villages partners with local governments to build and furnish more schools. They also work with local governments in these areas to provide communities with agriculture and food security programs, provide alternate opportunities for income such as animal husbandry to allow parents to stay in the countryside, provide health trainings and doctor visits, build sanitation facilities (which provide hygiene training), and work to provide clean sources of water for the community.

Impact

The organization’s outputs, to date, are building over 250 schoolrooms, including classrooms, libraries, teachers’ offices, and kitchens, as well as multi-story and multi-room buildings to accommodate large student populations. They have connected with 30 communities to aid local populations as described above. 119 WE lists their impact in rural China in five categories, including education, water, health, food security, and opportunity; however, specific data about these impacts is not reported. They state that as part of their educational impact, they are building more schools and education facilities so fewer children have to walk far distances to get to neighboring schools that are most likely over-crowded. 120

Gaps

Although WE has made it a goal to build more schools and facilities for children in rural China, they have neglected to consider other contributing factors for children not attending school, such as a lack of well-prepared teachers, family decisions to keep children at home for financial reasons, and the potential for cultural disagreement. 121 Another consideration is the community’s ability to continue to sustain a new building and facilities, as governments in rural areas are generally less able to raise funds for education than the urban, eastern provinces of China. 122 The organization claims building these schools will help more students attend school rather than staying home or engaging in child labor. However, they have not done the research necessary to see if the schools they have built actually combat these problems. They also state that providing more school buildings will help give education access to all and specifically will help decrease the gender gap between male and female students having access to education. 123 This claim is unfounded, as the gender gap between male and female students in school attendance is due largely to a cultural bias in favor of males rather than physical access to a school. Aside from the educational impact that they claim, the organization also does not provide details on the other areas of impact; water, health, food security, and opportunity are also contributing to the objective of having more students attend school.

Policy Change

Efforts to work harmoniously with the Chinese government to implement policy change to the education system is one of the most effective ways to ensure institutional transformation that can aid in keeping children in school. 124 Organizations who work in harmony with local governments to implement policies are more likely to help the target populations than those organizations who try to introduce change contrary to local interests. 125

The Rural Education Action Program (REAP) works to convert effective interventions into scalable social enterprises that can be adopted by the provincial and national governments. They also strive to build relationships with companies and media outlets in order to focus the attention of Chinese policymakers on key issues. 126 The organization approaches projects from either a top-down or bottom-up approach. Working with the national government in a top-down approach allows for policies to be introduced quickly and provides the opportunity for funding and policy to be given to local governments. A bottom-up approach allows the organization to work with local governments on finding solutions to specific problems and then to encourage local governments to share these potential solutions with national decision makers. 127

The Chinese government is also trying to alleviate the problem of teacher shortage in rural areas through policy change by recruiting retired instructors to return to teach in rural areas. China’s Ministry of Education has deemed this the “silver-age project,” and in May 2019 they planned to recruit 4,000 retired teachers to serve for at least one year in a rural area—teaching classes, giving lectures, giving training to local teachers, and assessing local teacher performance. 128

Impact

REAP designs all of their projects with upscaling and widespread implementation by the national government as the overall goal in mind. They work with the the national and provincial governments from idea conception, through data collection, and onward with follow up. They strive to follow a pattern of planning, research, implementation, and then evaluation of the intervention. REAP has successfully submitted 20 evidence-based policy briefs for implementation by the Chinese government. Each of these briefs is geared toward improving the education system or the child’s learning experience; impact would therefore be measured by the briefs’ effectiveness in doing so. For example, REAP published a brief in 2012 concerning the use of Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) as a method to help students in rural China complete needed remedial learning and to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas. REAP partnered with Dell Youth Connect to get the computers and software necessary to conduct the study for their brief on the effectiveness of CAL in rural schools. This brief allowed them to share the results of a study they conducted in 72 rural boarding schools which showed that third graders in the participating schools had increased their math standardized test scores by 0.18 standard deviations after participating in two 40-minute CAL math sessions per week for 13 weeks. Due to the success of the study reported on in the brief, local governments in rural provinces are allowing REAP to expand the program to other grade levels and to move the program from after school to being integrated into the school day. REAP uses the research they have found about CAL to aid China’s policy makers in integrating new technologies into the schools that need them most. This research worked in harmony with the Chinese government’s pledge to invest in updating the IT facilities in rural schools as part of their Twelfth Five Year Plan (2011–2015). 129

Gaps

The policy change briefs that are created by REAP take years to research and then time to publish the briefs and begin the process of petitioning for change in the government. If there was a way that the organization could establish some provisional measures in the interim, this would help in areas where students are dropping out the most. The organization also does not have much control over the implementation of the practices layed out in the policy briefs due to barriers present with Chinese governmental controls. Impact of these potential practices would likewise be difficult to measure due to the lack of access to data kept by the Chinese government.

Key Takeaways

  • China is divided into provinces which are classified by the hukou (housing registration system). Until 2014 each province had either an urban or rural status.
  • Since the 1940s, resources have been systematically channeled from the rural, western provinces of China to the more prosperous, coastal, eastern provinces to promote industrialization which has created an economic gap between the regions.
  • Funding for education began to be decentralized in the 1980s, leading to a further rift in the quality of education between urban and rural areas due to inadequate funding.
  • A law passed in 1993 allowed teachers, for the first time, to choose where they wanted to teach, leading to a “brain drain” of rural provinces as teachers departed for more promising opportunities in the cities.
  • The high cost of schooling, inadequately trained teachers, family’s educational background, migration of parents to cities, and the economic inequality between the rural and urban areas all contribute to a lower caliber of education in rural provinces.
  • Many students in rural areas drop out of school and may become child laborers to help support their families.
  • Students in rural areas are not as well-prepared to take high school and college entrance exams as their urban peers, which makes it unlikely that they will be able to compete for highly sought-after jobs.
  • There are practices in place including the short-term placement of teachers, financial support of at-risk students, building of new schools, and policy change initiatives which seek to alleviate the challenges students face in gaining an education.

1 “Education in China - Statistics & Facts,” Statista, November 22, 2019, https://www.statista.com/topics/2090/education-in-china/#dossierSummary__chapter4.

2 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out: Why are Students Leaving Junior High in China's Poor Rural Areas?”International Journal of Educational Development 32, no.4 (2012): 556, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedudev.2011.09.002.

3 Yuanyuan Chen and Shuaizhang Feng, “Access to Public Schools and the Education of Migrant Children in China,” China Economic Review 26, (September 2013): 75–76, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2013.04.007.

4 Rachel Murphy, “Study and School in the Lives of Children in Migrant Families: A View from Rural Jiangxi, China,” Development & Change 45, no. 1 (January 2014): 31, http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?EbscoContent=dGJyMMvl7ESeqLc4yOvsOLCmsEiep7NSsK24SLeWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGuskyurK5IuePfgeyx43zx1%2B6B&T=P&P=AN&S=L&D=eoh&K=1428790.

5 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

6 Chuanbo Chen and C. Cindy Fan, "China's Hukou Puzzle: Why Don't Rural Migrants Want Urban Hukou?" China Review 16, no. 3 (2016): 11, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/634713.

7 Ibid.

8 Jason Young, China’s Hukou System: Markets, Migrants and Institutional Change, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 54–55.

9 Jing Liu and Chunbing Xing, "Migrate for Education: An Unintended Effect of School District Combination in Rural China," China Economic Review 40, (September, 2016): 195, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2016.07.003.

10 Liu and Xing, "Migrate for Education.”

11 Xu Huang et al., “Residential Mobility in China: home ownership among rural-urban migrants after reform of the hukou registration system,” Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 29, (2014): 616, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10901-013-9370-5.

12 Wen Wang and Zhirong Jerry Zhao, "Rural taxation reforms and compulsory education finance in China," Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management 24, no. 1 (2012): 136, https://doi.org/10.1108/JPBAFM-24-01-2012-B007.

13 Can Tang, Liqiu Zhao, and Zhong Zhao, “Child Labor in China,” China Economic Review 51, (October 2018): 151-152, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2016.05.006.

14 Baicai Sun and Jingjian Xu, "Why Ethnic Minority Children are More Likely to Drop Out of School: A Cultural Capital Perspective,"Chinese Education & Society 43, no. 5 (2010):31-32, https://doi.org/10.2753/CED1061-1932430502.

15 Thomas S. Mullaney et al., Critical Han studies: The History, Representation, and Identity of China's Majority, (Berkely: University of California Press, 2012), 1.

16 Richard R. Nelson, “A Theory of the Low-Level Equilibrium Trap in Underdeveloped Economies,” The American Economic Review 46, no. 5 (1956): 894, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1811910.

17 Meichen Lu, et al., “Who drops out from primary schools in China? Evidence from minority-concentrated rural areas,” Asia Pacific Education Review 17, no. 2 (2016): 235, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12564-016-9421-1.

18 Ibid.

19 “Number of students at elementary schools in China between 2008-2018,” Statista, November 1, 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/227034/number-of-students-at-elementary-schools-in-china/.

20 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

21 Lu, et al., “Who drops out from primary schools in China?”

22 Ibid.

23 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

24 Mitch Moxley, “China: Alarming School Dropout Rate Blamed on Teaching Methods,” Inter Press Service, June 30, 2010, http://www.ipsnews.net/2010/06/china-alarming-school-dropout-rate-blamed-on-teaching-methods/.

25 Chen and Feng, “Access to Public Schools.”

26 Sara G. Lam, Teach for America Goes to China: Teach for China, Educational Equity, and Public Sphere Participation in Education, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2017.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Young, China’s Hukou System.

30 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

31 “Population in China-Statistics & Facts,” Statista, March 11, 2020, https://www.statista.com/topics/1276/population-in-china/.

32 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

33 Mullaney et al., The History, Representation, and Identity of China's Majority.

34 Qian Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction: The Hidden Curriculum in Schoolroom Instruction in MInority-Nationality Areas,” Chinese Education and Society 40, no.2 (2007), 71, https://doi.org/10.2753/CED1061-1932400204.

35 Sun and Xu, "Why Ethnic Minority Children.”

36 “Education in China—Statistics & Facts,” Statistia, April 7, 2020, https://www.statista.com/topics/2090/education-in-china/#dossierSummary__chapter4.

37 Yong Zhao, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014),130.

38 “Education in China—Statistics & Facts.”

39 Cai Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time,” Sixth Tone, November 13, 2017, https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1001171/changing-rural-education-one-girl-at-a-time.

40 Therese Hesketh and Wei Xing Zhu, “Health in China: The one child family policy: the good, the bad, and the ugly,” BMJ 314 (1997): 1685–1686, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7095.1685.

41 Xiaoyan Lei et al, "Sibling gender composition’s effect on education: evidence from China," Journal of population economics 30, no. 2 (2017): 584, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-016-0614-z.

42 Ibid.

43 Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction.”

44 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

45 Ibid.

46 Philip H. Brown and Albert Park, “Education and poverty in rural China,” Economics of Education Review 20, (2002):537-540, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0272-7757(01)00040-1.

47 Hongmei Yi et al., “Dropping Out.”

48 Tang, Zhao, and Zhao, “Child Labor in China.”

49 Brown and Park, “Education and poverty in rural China.”

50 Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time.”

51 Brown and Park, “Education and poverty in rural China.”

52 Ibid.

53 Meng Zhao and Paul Glewwe, “What Determines Basic School Attainment in Developing Countries? Evidence from Rural China,” Economic Education Review 29, no.3 (June 2010): 451, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2009.10.008.

54 Liu and Xing, "Migrate for Education.”

55 Yujuan Gao et al., "Parental Migration's Effects on the Academic and Non-Academic Performance of Left-Behind Children in Rural China," China Economist 14, no. 5 (2019): 68, DOI:10.19602/j.chinaeconomist.2019.9.07.

56 Ibid.

57 Chen and Feng, “Access to Public Schools.”

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

62 Brown and Park, “Education and poverty in rural China.”

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid.

66 Yin Cheong Cheng, Ya?Qing Mao, and Zhikui Niu, "Reforms on teachers' employment system and children's rights to education in China," International Journal of Educational Management 23. no. 1(2009): 7, https://doi.org/10.1108/09513540910926394.

67 Ibid.

68 Ibid.

69 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

70 Ibid.

71 Cheng, Mao, and Niu, "Reforms on teachers' employment system.”

72 Brown and Park, “Education and poverty in rural China.”

73 Cheng, Mao, and Niu, "Reforms on teachers' employment system.”

74 Ibid.

75 Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction.”

76 Ibid.

77 John Knight, Li Shi, and Deng Quheng, “Education and the Poverty Trap in Rural China: Setting the Trap,” Oxford Development Studies 37, no.4 (2009): 315, https://doi.org/10.1080/13600810903305232.

78 Ibid.

79 Nelson, “A Theory of the Low-Level Equilibrium Trap.”

80 “Gross domestic product (GDP) of China in 2018, by region,” Statista, February 6, 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/278557/gdp-of-china-by-region/.

81 Sue-Lin Wong, “China’s school dropouts a growing concern for economy in transition,” Reuters Business News, August 25, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-economy-labour/chinas-school-dropouts-a-growing-concern-for-economy-in-transition-idUSKCN1B50HM.

82 Xin Xiang, “My Future, My Family, My Freedom: Meanings of Schooling for Poor, Rural Chinese Youth,” Harvard Educational Review 88, no.1 (2018): 83, DOI:10.17763/1943-5045-88.1.81.

83 Wong, “China’s school dropouts a growing concern.”

84 Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction.”

85 Ibid.

86 Zhao, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon.

87 Minhui, “Discontinuity and Reconstruction.”

88 Zai Liang and Yiu Por Chen, “The Educational Consequences of Migration for Children in China,”Social Science Research 36, no. 1(March 2007), http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.532.1537&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

89 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

90 Young, China’s Hukou System.

91 Xiang, “My Future, My Family, My Freedom.”

92 Jason Hung, “Educational Investment and Sociopsychological Wellbeing Among Rural Chinese Women,” Inquiries Journal 10, no. 5 (2018), http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/a?id=1736.

93 Huiquan Zhou and Xinyuan Shang, “Short-Term Volunteer Teachers in Rural China: Challenges and Needs,” Frontiers of Education in China 6, (December 2011): 571-572, DOI 10.1007/s11516-011-0146-y.

94 Ibid.

95 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

96 “Vision and Model,” Teach For China, accessed September 19, 2019, http://tfchina.org/vision/index.html.

97 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

98 “Long-term Influence,” tfchina.org, Teach For China, accessed November 14, 2019, http://tfchina.org/effect/.

99 “Long-term Influence.”

100 Zhao, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon.

101 Sun and Xu, "Why Ethnic Minority Children.”

102 Zhou and Shang, “Short-term volunteer teachers in rural China.”

103 Ibid.

104 Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time.”

105 Rural Education Action Program, “Money for Matriculation: Conditional Cash Transfers to Reduce Junior High Dropouts in Rural China,”REAP Publications (Policy Brief #114), (2011), 7, https://fsi-live.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/REAP114-EN.pdf.

106 Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time.”

107 “Programs,” Educating Girls of Rural China, accessed November 16, 2019, https://egrc.ca/programs/.

108 Rural Education Action Program, “Money for Matriculation.”

109 “Achievements,” Educating Girls of Rural China, accessed July 11, 2020, https://egrc.ca/.

110 “Programs,” Educating Girls of Rural China.

111 Ibid.

112 “Alumni’s Success,” Educating Girls of Rural China, accessed July 11, 2020, https://egrc.ca/alumni-success/.

113 Yiwen, “Changing Rural Education One Girl At a Time.”

114 Ibid.

115 “Money for Matriculation: Conditional Cash Transfers to Reduce Junior High Dropouts in Rural China,” REAP Publications, Stanford, 2011, https://reap.fsi.stanford.edu/publications/reap_brief_114_money_for_matriculation_conditional_cash_transfers_to_reduce_junior_high_dropouts_in_rural_china.

116 Ibid.

117 Ibid.

118 “Our Students,” Educating Girls of Rural China, accessed November 16, 2019, https://egrc.ca/our-students/.

119 “Rural China,” WE, accessed September 19, 2019, https://www.we.org/en-CA/our-work/we-villages/countries-we-work-in/china.

120 Ibid.

121 Lam, Teach for America Goes to China.

122 Ibid.

123 “Rural China.”

124 “Policy Impact,” REAP Rural Education Action Program, accessed March 20, 2020. https://reap.fsi.stanford.edu/policy_impact.

125 Timothy Hildebrant, Social organizations and the authoritarian state in China, (New York:Cambridge University Press, 2013), 41.

126 “Policy Impact.”

127 Ibid.

128 “China to recruit retired teachers to rural schools,” Ministry of Education: The People’s Republic of China, May 3, 2019, http://en.moe.gov.cn/news/media_highlights/201905/t20190505_380574.html.

129 REAP, “Computers as Tutors? Leveraging PCs to Advance Learning in China’s Rural Schools,” REAP Publications (REAP Brief #116), (2012): 12, https://fsi-live.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/REAP116-EN.pdf.


About Mollie Bradley

Mollie recently graduated from BYU with her BS in Communication Disorders and a minor in Chinese. She will continue at BYU in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders in the hope of becoming a certified Speech Language Pathologist. Mollie became acquainted with the Chinese language and culture after living in Taiwan for 18 months and then in China for four months. It was while on her study abroad in China that she became aware of the disparities in education there and the lack of intervention available for individuals with speech and learning disorders. She is passionate about the idea that education can shape and change lives and she wants to work in her future career to help break down the barriers that individuals face in attaining a quality education both in the US and abroad.

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