BEIJING — Chinese primary and secondary schools are often derided as grueling, test-driven institutions that churn out students who can recite basic facts but have little capacity for deep reasoning.
A new study, though, suggests that China is producing students with some of the strongest critical thinking skills in the world.
Recently, an academic consensus has emerged that China should focus its human capital development in rural areas. Rural residents receive only an average of 9.6 years of education, which leaves them ill-prepared for high-skilled work. Yet with the increased mechanization of factories, manufacturing jobs will likely move offshore, or revert back to the West. This is a great risk for an economy transitioning from low-income to high-income status, such as China.
China Abandoned its One-Child Policy - Now it must fix the gulf in education between city and country children
Around 8 per cent of rural children in China take college entrance exams, compared with 70 per cent of urban children. Reap officials believe this is due to a woeful lack of mental stimulation for rural youngsters between birth and the age of three. They say this is the crucial period for neurons to connect in the brain and set a path for a child’s mental ability later in life.
NO CAR may honk nor lorry rumble near secondary schools on the two days next week when students are taking their university entrance exams, known as gaokao. Teenagers have been cramming for years for these tests, which they believe (with justification) will determine their entire future. Yet it is at an earlier stage of education that an individual’s life chances in China are usually mapped out, often in ways that are deeply unfair.
Hu Huifeng, an 18-year-old high school senior from China’s Jiangxi province, is on a strict regimen. Seven days a week she rises by 6 a.m. for a day of classes in Chinese, English, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and biology, with the last one finishing at 9:50 p.m. “Once I get home, I study until midnight,” she says.
For 30 years, Yu Huajian visited villages in rural China to remind couples to have just one child, to abide by the law and help the economy. He also pursued violators of the much-hated policy and oversaw abortions.
Since the one-child policy was abandoned in October, Mr. Yu and some of the half a million other family-planning workers have knocked on rural doors with a different message: How to play with children, read to them and raise them with better skills.
The shift was abrupt, but Mr. Yu said he has always done what he and leaders thought was best for the country.
Chen is among the millions of students in rural areas who quit school each year without completing high school. Although there are no official statistics, studies by various research institutions say one in three students in villages – some 3 million teenagers on average – quit school every year before earning a high school diploma.
"What do I do about the chickens?"
When assistant professor of medicine Eran Bendavid began a study on livestock in African households to determine impact on childhood health, he'd already anticipated common field problems like poorly captured or intentionally misreported data, difficulty getting to work sites, or problems with training local volunteers.
After Mr. Hu retired in late 2012, and China deemphasized his push for a “harmonious society,” less happened with the foreign run rural banks.
Citigroup Inc. says its network of Citi Credit outlets remains at four – including two in Hubei province – the same it reported in 2011. Spokesmen for both Standard Chartered Plc and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. each say their push into village banking stopped at one outlet.
On January 9th, China news station CCTV-13 aired a story about REAP's program to train family planning officials who previously enforced the one-child policy, to become early childhood education experts. The original segment was broadcast during News Hour at 10 pm, which has an audience of 1.2 billion viewers.
Last June, a lively and well-equipped preschool opened in one of the poorest villages in Shaanxi province, as part of a pilot project seeking ways to improve childhood development called Nurturing the Future. The pilot is being run by the national health commission and the Rural Education Action Plan (REAP), a joint research program conducted by Shaanxi Normal University in the northwestern city of Xi'an, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Stanford University in the U.S. state of California.
In China, left behind kids battle a social stigma, even if their material conditions are sometimes better than that of children living in homes without migrant income. Conventional wisdon, even among grandparents, is that the grandparents of leff-behind children are not capable of raising children who succeed in school or in life.
Experts are divided on how much children being raised by grandparents are hurt, in terms of educational or even physical development — or even if there is a negative impact at all.
Chinese leaders implemented the one-child policy in 1980 in an effort to rein in explosive population growth and help raise living standards. It was rooted in a Mao Zedong-era baby boom. China’s population rose by nearly half to about 807 million people in 1969 from when the Communist Party took over the country 20 years before. That led to fears among the leadership that China faced a population boom it couldn’t feed.
As millions of migrant workers flock to China's cities in search of factory jobs, they are leaving an estimated 60 million children at home in rural areas without one or both parents. In response, the government has invested heavily in boarding schools. However, these boarding schools often fail to meet students' basic needs—both physical and psychological.
“You can put off building a highway or an airport, but you can’t put off nurturing a child."
This article is the first in a What’s Working series that looks at innovative policy solutions pioneered by the Rural Education Action Program (REAP), an impact evaluation organization that brings together researchers from Stanford University and China to forge new solutions in rural poverty alleviation.
Once every week for six months, a special team of family planning workers fanned out across the remote towns of Shaanxi Province or journeyed to isolated villages in the Qinling Mountains, the cradle of China’s civilization and habitat of the world’s remaining wild pandas. Determined to make a difference, the workers braved downpours in the dead of winter and long, treacherous roads to conduct weekly visits to families living in the region’s rural corners.