With the goal of sparking new action research ideas and fostering continued investment in improving education in rural China, REAP Co-Directors Scott Rozelle and Linxiu Zhang recently led a group of over 40 collaborators, students, entrepreneurs, and donors from around the world on a week-long trek through rural villages in Shaanxi Province to visit various REAP project sites.
They facilitated exchanges with local principals, parents, clinicians, and government leaders dedicated to changing the lives of millions of China's poorest children. The following projects reflect these and other knowledge exchanges that continue to increase the capacity of REAP's work to eliminate barriers to quality education.
Only 40% of students from poor rural areas of China attend high school. One reason is that Chinese high schools are expensive to attend (in fact, the most expensive in the world). Moreover, even when high schools provide financial aid, they do not guarantee that poor students will be covered. The resulting financial uncertainty deters capable students from attending high school.
Seeking to address this problem, REAP conducted a longitudinal study from 2010-2013, showing that poor junior high students were 13% more likely to attend high school if guaranteed financial aid. We reported these results to the Chinese State Council, who accepted our policy brief and signed our findings to policy action. Today, high schools inform junior high students of their financial aid status before they graduate and issue bank cards to ensure timely disbursement of funds. Read a translation of our policy briefhere.
Certain that tuition at any public high school will be covered by REAP's financial aid program, Xiao Tian's grandparents are eager to see her fulfill her dream of becoming an English teacher.
The Chinese government is spending 32 million dollars per year to fund vocational education, a system that is not only failing to educate kids, but is harming poor students. At the same time, vocational high schools are the fastest-increasing education expenditure in China today. However, REAP researchers found no rigorous studies evaluating the impact of vocational education.
By tracking vocational high school students from 2011-2013, REAP showed that vocational education fails to improve poor students' technical skills and actually reduces their math ability. One of the key problems is that vocational high schools are managed by multiple government bureaus, leading to poor oversight. We are now writing a policy brief to communicate these results to China’s State Council.
This is a glimpse into a computer repair class at Shahezi Vocational School in rural Shaanxi. With facilities like this, can vocational school students learn effectively?
Over 200 million people in rural China have poor vision, but few have access to quality vision care services or wear properly prescribed eyeglasses. In 2012-13, REAP undertook the largest vision care study ever conducted in rural China to tackle the problem.
By screening nearly 20,000 fourth and fifth graders in rural China, we determined that 1 in 4 rural children have uncorrected vision problems and that the poorer their eyesight, the lower their academic performance. We also found children with more severe vision problems suffered disproportionately from high anxiety and emotional difficulties. We are now evaluating
different vision care delivery strategies to measure the impact of eyeglasses uptake on school performance—in all providing nearly 4,000 pairs of new eyeglasses to nearsighted children. Read the policy brief summarizing our results and recommendationshere.
In April, 2013, the REAP team conducted a survey of rural Chinese babies, testing them for international growth benchmarks, anemia, and cognitive and mental development. We found that an astonishing 55% of babies in China's villages are anemic - a condition that, if uncorrected, can have serious impacts on cognitive ability, school performance, and even lifetime earnings. Since only around 20% of babies are stunted or wasted, we further believe that this is a micronutrient problem - the babies are getting enough calories, but not enough vitamins and nutrients. Through our survey, the REAP team also learned that 35% of babies suffer from significant cognitive delays, and 57% suffer from significant motor delays. We have just submitted a new policy brief to the State Council reporting these findings.
Nutritious School Lunch
In 2012, partially as a result of REAP's extensive work showing high rates of undernutrition among rural Chinese primary school students, the Chinese government launched a 22 billion USD national school lunch program to provide all rural primary students with a free and nutritious lunch. Subsequent REAP research, however, has shown that this new school lunch policy is only providing a free lunch, not a nutritious one. We submitted a new policy brief outlining the implementation gaps in the new school lunch program, and the Chinese government responded by requesting that REAP submit a detailed policy plan for improving nutrition among rural schoolchildren. Thisnew planwas just submitted in June, 2013.