Education Articles

The Main Challenges for Education in Rural China

For nearly a century now, despite the attempts of the Chinese government with foreign assistance to change the educational system in China, make it appropriate for the whole population of the country, and expand it to remote rural areas, numerous research on the issue proved that those areas remain untouched even by the compulsory education imposed by the government. The reasons for this increasing inequality in access to education between the urban and rural population originate from the historical and economic changes that took place during the early era of communism, followed by the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the market reforms in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and current situation in China. Some of the events had greater influence on the country’s socio-cultural environment than others. The main challenges for education in rural China are closely connected with Chinese values and identity, and are to be discussed in this essay.

First to be considered is the historical matter of the issue. Chinese traditional education in Confucian way represented a rigorous examination system. Applied politics was the main subject in this system, and the imposition of political thinking in studying remained until the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.

Another typical feature was the local character of the system and the decentralised manner of distribution of educational patterns across the country, which showed the lack of homogeneity in the educational system with differing educational levels for rural and urban population, along with the different period of schooling.
In order to change the system for the better, the Chinese government considered it necessary to adapt s

chooling to the western educational patterns and depart from the traditional education. However, the question of applicability of a different socio-cultural environment to different nations is still controversial. However, the government tried several patterns during the period from 1898 to 1966: Japanese, American, European and Soviet. Japanese educational system seemed to be appropriate to oriental culture and close to Chinese socio-cultural environment. The attempts to adhere to the American system of education followed it. European interference into Chinese educational problems caused the turnaround from the American system, but, nevertheless, failed. The researchers explain the failure of imposing different educational patterns on Chinese population as a consequence of misunderstanding of the Chinese identity, peculiarities of Chinese culture and the necessity for China to create its own way of development without imitating others. After the formation of communism in China, the Soviet Union had a great influence on the political and economic life of the country; thus, including changes in educational sphere. However, all the experiments with Chinese education never concerned rural education. In addition, secondary or higher education was not available for rural population in those times and did not spread to rural areas, despite the European or American projects and plans.

The peasants rejected to send their children to schools because of unsuitable content of the program and inappropriate timetable. When the necessity of education was proved by the government, minban (people-run) schools appeared all over the country. These schools were organized and run by people themselves with little help from the government that provided some sources for financing the schools and sent teachers to rural areas if necessary. The peasants got the opportunity to decide what was more suitable for them. They founded winter schools, half-day schools and evening classes, in order to be able to combine schooling with their agricultural activities.

The period of the Cultural Revolution became quite controversial for education in China. The majority of people connect the Cultural Revolution with a disastrous period of time, when the economy was on the brink of collapse with prevailing uncertainty and deprivation. People lived in poor conditions. Higher education in China was on the decline with many schools (vocational and technical) and universities closing. However, minban education grew rapidly during this period, allowing every child, despite of his or her status and place of living, to finish primary school without being charged at all. This was possible due to the new policy. According to it, local communities financed rural schools. However, this policy was not beneficial for the teachers working in such schools, as their salary relied completely on the so-called work points instead of traditional salary, which was much higher for state teachers. The positive effect during this period was the increase of rural children getting primary education. In general, the good aim of the Cultural Revolution to decrease the distance between rural and urban students’ access to education worked, though not for all and not for long.

The Chinese government understood that certain efforts should have been made in order to avoid the degradation of the country. The government started the work on the reforms, which could become the engine of the economic growth and move China to progress, changing its status from the developing to developed country. During the period of the late 1970s to early 1980s, after the Cultural Revolution, the government returned to previous methods of higher education with its exams, vocational and technical schools, and universities. Higher education was considered to be necessary for providing high-qualified specialists to move the country forward and raise its economy. The government established and encouraged the new ideas of quality of education, competition among the students, and individual talents. However, the costs of education increased, making it more difficult for rural children to attend schools and, especially, get higher education, which was connected with the low income in rural areas. The return to private schooling also meant the increasing gap in access to qualitative education as such schools were not available for ordinary people, but only for the elite.

During the period of reforms, the government paid much attention to providing qualitative education to children. The government gradually abolished minibans to make education more qualitative and decided to finance all educational levels itself. The next step was decentralisation, which, on the one hand, provided new resources for financing educational institutions, but, on the other hand, caused the increase in differences between the regions making school funding more difficult, especially in rural areas. Teaching in rural areas remained mostly traditional. Because of the poor living conditions and the lack of financing, it was difficult to attract good teachers to rural schools. All this influenced directly the quality of education in rural areas, meaning that students there were deprived of qualitative education, while rich urban population of China could enjoy the best higher professional education.

By the mid-1990s, the government understood the increasing problem of the differences caused by decentralisation and decided to take measures to improve the situation. Firstly, it began to provide grants to the poor and minority regions to support education. Secondly, in 1986 the Chinese government designated nine years of compulsory education for all children. Still, people in the remote rural areas could afford only 3 or 4 years of this education.

During the period of reforms, the general educational access increased. However, rural children, especially from remote regions, remained outside this system. A high percentage of children with illiterate parents, living mostly in rural areas, preserved the difficulties to attend schools and get education. Today, this problem remains vital. It is connected with the Chinese traditional values, which are still strong in remote locations of the country. Poor peasants, like Ma Yan’s family, prefer traditional early marriages to education because it would be difficult for families to survive with such a burden in these poor conditions.

Despite the existence of compulsory nine-year education, rural people cannot afford more than 3 or 4 years of schooling; they give up and follow the traditional way of marrying and working on the fields to provide for their families. University is far more than a dream for a rural child. The year 2000 did not bring any changes into the differences between the urban and rural educational access. Rural education remains on the maximum level of compulsory education. The diary of MaYan, a Chinese girl from the village of Zhangjiashu, shows how hard it is to escape the poverty of rural life, emphasizing the role of the education as the only way out. Illiterate parents would have to sacrifice a lot to be able to send their children to school. In addition, they would have to understand how important education is in the modern world. Children, for their part, would have to endure long walks to school and bullying from the urban children they study with. It is a great challenge for a child. However, it is also an incentive that can move a person forward in his/her studying. The main goal of this person is to escape agricultural life and its poverty. Ma Yan is a clever girl showing extreme interest in studying. She feels responsible for her family relying on her, feels indebted to her parents and she is making everything possible to study.

Education plays an important role in providing access to high status jobs. The necessity of higher education increased with time both in urban and rural areas. As MaYan says in her diary, “Nothing works for you if you don’t study”. Higher education can help to find a job in spite of the unemployment rate and uncertainty in the labour market all over the country today.

The main challenges for education in rural China today remain the same as during the previous century. Despite the attempts of the Chinese government to balance the situation with the education system in the country and make access to education easier for everybody, the main problem of inequality and differences between the rural and urban population remains vital. The gap between urban and rural schooling occured because of the high price of education, especially, of higher education, the popularity of private schools of high quality unavailable for rural citizens, and decentralisation influencing quality of education. The quality of education in rural areas is worse because of the lack of financing and qualified teachers, and adherence to traditional Chinese education in many regions of the country. Traditional thinking, prevailing in remote regions of China, also influences education in these regions, as the belief that work and early marriage must be the primary goals remains firm in people.

The Chinese education system needs further development and improvement in order to give access to at least compulsory studying to the whole population of the country. The Chinese government has to issue serious reforms and, first, care about the quality of life in rural regions to be able to ensure high standards of education there.

About the Author

Luna Griffin is a specialist in English literature at the Orlando University and longtime work as a writer at – essay writing services that provide all students with any types of written assignments in all disciplines. She always wanted to become a writer and publish a book that will become a new contribution to the literature. She started career as an English Tutor after which she started to show interest in child psychology research. She is currently working on a variety of topics related to studying the state of modern education.