Do Teaching Qualifications Really Matter?
It’s no secret that China is a vast country, with a variety of different landscapes and environments spanning its entire territory. However, the difference in development between China’s rural and urban environments has created an enormous disparity in its citizens' education and success simply by virtue of where they live. This educational gap begins from birth, as nearly half of rural infants and toddlers are delayed in cognition and language skills (Wei et al., 2015). This has consequences for rural citizens’ individual success, such as lower academic achievement and income, as well as China’s development as a whole, as it will stagnate due to a lack of an educated workforce (Guo and Qu, 2019). As a result, many have suggested investing in preschool to improve developmental outcomes, as the nervous system develops rapidly between the ages of 3 and 5. Additionally, studies have shown that better family care and more stimulation from caregivers lead to better cognitive development, which many rural students lack (Maholmes & King, 2012; Luo et al., 2017).
Teachers, Preschools, and the Rural-Urban Divide
In recognition of these studies, from 2009 to 2016, China’s central government has increased the national preschool enrollment rate from 50.1% to 77.4% (Wu, 2017). However, many rural preschool teachers lack a university degree and have significantly less training than their urban counterparts (Wang, 2017). To help reduce this gap, China has expanded its teacher training program and introduced a professional ranking system based on teachers’ qualifications and their students’ performance (Wang, 2018). However, while these measures sound helpful, they rely on one premise: that teacher qualifications and learning are correlated.
How are teaching qualifications and preschool development related?
While many studies have examined teacher qualifications and students’ outcomes, very few have assessed outcomes during preschool ages, and even fewer have analyzed rural, developing areas specifically. One recent study in the Qinba Mountain Area, an impoverished, rural area in western China, found that preschool teacher qualifications were positively correlated with developmental outcomes, mostly in language development (Wei et al., 2020). This can most directly be attributed to better educated teachers providing a richer language environment and better interactions, as many rural preschool teachers are trained in high schools and have weaker language skills of their own. Additionally, this study validated China’s professional ranking process, as higher ranked teachers were correlated with better development outcomes. However, teachers with degrees in early childhood education actually led to a decrease in vocabulary acquisition, and were less likely to receive a professional ranking (Wei et al., 2020). This is most likely because many training colleges are low quality and focus on theoretical knowledge rather than practical skills, often leaving teachers unprepared to interact with preschool-age children. Additionally, teacher experience and training did not have any significant correlation with child development outcomes, suggesting that existing training programs may not improve teaching skills or that rural teachers do not have enough resources to implement them.
What does this mean for China moving forward?
This study suggests that while many of the Chinese government’s policies are working, there are still improvements to be made, especially in teacher training and specialization. Government policy should focus on making sure highly qualified teachers work in rural preschools with salary increases, benefits, and other incentives. Additionally, the professional ranking process is successful in finding the most effective teachers, and should be used both to draw effective teachers towards rural schools as well as identify less effective teachers for remedial training. However, existing teacher training and early education specialization programs are not successful, so they should be reevaluated and potentially overhauled to be more effective in rural preschools. Overall, the Chinese government needs to incentivize qualified teachers to teach in rural preschools, and invest more heavily in teaching colleges and teacher training to help less effective teachers improve.
Guo, L., & Qu, J. (2019). The Heckman curve and human capital
investment—Thoughts on and lessons from increasing public expenditures on
pre-school education. Economics Information, 01, 116–130
Luo, R., Yue, A., Zhou, H., Shi, Y., Zhang, L., Martorell, R., et al. (2017). The effect of a
micronutrient powder home fortification program on anemia and cognitive
outcomes among young children in rural China: A cluster randomized trial.
BMC Public Health, 17(1), 738. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4755-0
Maholmes, V., & King, R. B. (2012). The Oxford handbook of poverty and child
development. USA: Oxford University Press
Wang, Lei, et al. “Teacher Qualifications and Development Outcomes of Preschool Children in Rural China.” Early Childhood Research Quarterly, vol. 53, 2020, pp. 355–369., doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2020.05.015.
Wang, L. Y. (2017). Evolutionary research on the policy of preschool teacher training
of China—Based on analysis of policy text in 1978–2016.
Wang, X. (2018). The study of preschool teachers in Heilongjiang province
Wei, Q. W., Zhang, J. X., Scherpbier, R. W., Zhao, C. X., Luo, S. S., Wang, X. L., et al.
(2015). High prevalence of developmental delay among children under three
years of age in poverty-stricken areas of China. Public Health, 129(12),
Wu, Z. H. (2017, October 27). China rural education development report 2017. China
Education News Network. http://www.jyb.cn/zgjsb/201712/t20171228