China’s further modernization linked to rural education

By Duo Mu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/20 23:03:40

A recent speech by Scott Rozelle, co-director of the Rural Education Action Program at Stanford University, about China's underdeveloped rural education has provoked debate. Rozelle also mentioned China is now in the middle-income trap, where a country that attains a certain income finds itself stuck at that level.

Apparently China's fast economic growth means China hasn't fallen into that trap. But we don't need to dwell on whether Rozelle is right about the middle-income trap. Yet his thoughts on China's rural education deserve our total attention. Many developing countries have failed to escape the trap because their lagging education hampers a much-needed industrial upgrade and with it, economic growth. Hence the urgency for improving rural education.

The Chinese government implemented nine years' compulsory education in 1986 to enhance the nation's educational level. The strategies of invigorating China through science and education and strengthening the country through human resource development highlighted the importance government attached to education. But in recent years, educational inequality between urban and rural areas has increasingly obstructed national educational development. According to statistics, rural schools have been downsized significantly, with 9,667 having no students. Rural compulsory education is basically carried out in small village schools, boarding schools in towns and bigger schools in counties: a system imbalanced in favor of urban residents.

Rural education is fundamental, crucial for a country striving for modernization. In an industrializing, urbanizing country, the educational level of rural people - the majority of the population - decides the level of national education. This has been demonstrated by affirmative action in the US and the New Community Movement in South Korea.

It's fair to say China's reform and opening-up has been bolstered by education that has helped China get to the point it is now. As China endeavors to transform its economy from labor-intensive to service and knowledge-based industry, human capital is critical. But China's backward rural education has done a bad job of cultivating rural children into the necessary human resources needed for such a transition.

It's hard to address the issue given China's sizable rural population and regional disparity in the short term. Limited higher education resources have restricted access.

But it still helps if we try to prepare rural students to compete with their urban peers by shaping their future with increasing input in early education for rural areas including good teachers.

China's educational level will be decided by its rural education. By enhancing rural education, China can better adapt to the requirements of economic development in the 21st century and maintain its momentum.

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