Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, August 29, 2014

Chinese achievement gap

The educational achievement gap between racial/ethnic groups in the US is a political issue. The gap in China is between urban and rural students. It's also a political issue.

Down and out in rural China
In the past three decades China has made impressive gains in sending rural children to school. This has helped fuel its rise as a low-end manufacturing power. But the easy gains have been achieved. If the country is to create the “knowledge economy” it says it wants, the government will have to change the way rural teenagers are educated and schools in the countryside are funded.

Americans visit a Chinese middle school
Completion of junior middle-school has been compulsory since 1986. (Middle-school in China refers to the six years of education before university [7th - 12th grades in the US].) In big cities it is already the norm to finish the remaining three years, known as senior middle-school. In the countryside growing numbers are entering senior middle-school too, but it is far less common. In 1990 just 7% of rural students did so. Today the figure may be just over one-third. Even at the junior level (despite government figures suggesting full attendance), dropout rates are high: a study of rural students in four provinces found they ranged between more than one-sixth to nearly a third.

Some quit school because of the cost; in contrast to many other countries, the upper years charge for tuition. Senior middle-schools are often far away from villages, so students have to board. Including the cost of books, the bill for three years can easily amount to thousands of dollars—more than a year’s income for poorer rural families…

Tens of millions of rural workers have moved to urban areas since the 1990s. But China’s system of household registration, or hukou, makes it difficult for them to send their children to better-resourced and better-run middle-schools in the cities. Migrants often have no choice but to leave their children behind to be educated. A lack of parental supervision compounds many students’ difficulties…

China has set out to make education cheaper. In 2006 it began eliminating tuition and book fees for primary and junior middle-schools. But urban secondary schools still have much bigger budgets than rural ones…

The government encourages teachers to steer academic underachievers to vocational schools [which has]… helped to boost enrolment in such schools by nearly 50%… But vocational schools in rural areas, no less than their middle-school counterparts, are blighted by scant funding and poor-quality staff. Students still have to pay, hence richer ones enroll more than poorer ones… Many experts argue that providing more opportunity for students to stay in standard secondary schools would prepare them better for the workplace. But that would land the government with a huge new bill.

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