Rural education across China's 40 years of Reform: past successes and future challenges

Journal Articles

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China Agricultural Economic Review, Vol. 10

January 2018

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to describe the policy and trends in rural education in China over the past 40 years; and also discuss a number of challenges that are faced by China’s rural school system.

Design/methodology/approach – The authors use secondary data on policies and trends over the past 40 years for preschool, primary/junior high school, and high school.

Findings – The trends over the past 40 years in all areas of rural schooling have been continually upward and strong. While only a low share of rural children attended preschool in the 1980s, by 2014 more than 90 percent of rural children were attending. The biggest achievement in compulsory education is that the rise in the number of primary students that finish grade 6 and matriculate to junior high school. There also was a steep rise of those going to and completing high school. While the successes in upscaling rural education are absolutely unprecedented, there are still challenges.

Research limitations/implications – This is descriptive analysis and there is not causal link established between policies and rural schooling outcomes.

Practical implications – The authors illustrate one of the most rapid rises of rural education in history and match the achievements up with the policy efforts of the government. The authors also explore policy priorities that will be needed in the coming years to raise the quality of schooling.

Originality/value – This is the first paper that documents both the policies and the empirical trends of the success that China has created in building rural education from preschool to high school during the first 40 years of reform (1978-2018). The paper also documents – drawing on the literature and the own research – the achievements and challenges that China still face in the coming years, including issues of gender, urbanization, early childhood education and health and nutrition of students.

Keywords Trends, China, Achievements, Policies, Rural education, Shortcomings

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