Education outcomes vary widely across China with less than 5% of China’s rural poor attending university compared to 84% of high school grads in Shanghai. For the second time in a decade, 15 year-olds in Shanghai rank number one in the PISA global education assessment, but critics say that exam’s results are not representative of the city’s or country’s total student population.
Not all Chinese students take the PISA exam, and data on a number of Chinese cities and provinces is not yet published by PISA. It is expected that China as a whole will be included in the 2015 assessment. According to data from the Rural Education Action Program (REAP) at Stanford University, Shanghai’s education success is not repeated in China’s less wealthy and rural interior, writes Kristie Lu Stout of CNN.
In poor and rural areas of China, high school attendance is only 40%. Students struggle with poverty and debate the opportunity cost of simply going to class, a large number start dropping out in middle school.
Andrea Pasinetti, who founded Teach for China , a non-profit that brings graduates from China and the U.S. to teach at some of China’s most under-resourced schools, presents a particularly bullish view on rural education in China.
“A lot of these (rural) schools tend to be boarding schools. So the school provides not only a context for classroom instruction, it also provides a context for personal growth and exploration,” Pasinetti said.
Jiang Xueqin, who currently is the Deputy Principal of Tsinghua University High School, said Chinese students in the rural regions are at a huge disadvantage and teachers and school do have sufficient resources.
“The other issue is that in the rural regions, there’s a lot of movement so parents move to the cities leaving their kids behind in the schools. So there isn’t that parental support and guidance that kids need to thrive. “Rural schools are under a lot of cultural stigma. No one in China believes they will succeed,” Jiang said.
China is working to improve education standards and quality across the country. The government in 2010 released a 10-year national education reform plan that is designed to put less focus on tests and hire the best teachers for schools in rural communities.
Jiang, however, is not hopeful about the prospects for education equity in China. He thinks the wealthy will move education resources to a system of new private schools that the poor cannot afford — a potentially dark future that China must avoid.
“Over the years it will become worse and worse,” Jiang said. “The rich and powerful are choosing to detach themselves from the traditional school system.”
Education is an obsession in some parts of China, as thousands of Chinese parents send children as young as three to boarding school. It is surprising because family ties are exceedingly important in China, but from Monday morning to Friday afternoon, kids play, learn, eat and sleep in their brightly colored classroom and its attached dormitory, only going home at weekends.