Why Is Rural China's Education Important to the World?
With a GDP second only to America, China is undoubtedly a consequential player in the international market.
Taking this and the title into consideration, you likely have concluded that improving education in rural China is in someway significant to China’s presence in the global economy. Frankly, you wouldn’t be wrong.
While some surface level predictions forecast China to be a developed country in the near future, a closer analysis finds that China’s human capital is insufficient to support this leap.
Specifically, with the growing gap in both wealth and education, continued insistence for China to move from manufacturing to service-based jobs will only lead to social unrest and an absence of qualified workers.
Keeping this in mind, how can we help?
The Middle Income Trap
As touched on in previous blogs, the middle income trap describes a country whose labor force is not advanced enough to become a developed economy/nation. The countries who have been stuck in this trap, such as Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, and Indonesia, have straddled on the line between developed and developing, oscillating between growth and collapse.
Undoubtedly, collapse in Turkey’s economy would be bad for the Turkish population. But put bluntly, this has minimal effect in the international scope
China, on the other hand, with its previously-mentioned prominence, cannot afford such a collapse. The international market that gets 15.5% of its capital from China, cannot afford this collapse.
Yet right now, China’s economy is coming frighteningly close to becoming “trapped.”
Will China's Economy Collapse?
That’s the big question. And to answer it, we must first distinguish between current and past educational policies.
The current labor force has experienced the ramifications of China’s Cultural Revolution, in which the Chinese Communist Party pushed many teenagers into rural areas to limit their education.
The consequence of this is that 70% of China’s current labor force are high school dropouts. When put in perspective with other middle income countries, China has by far the lowest levels of education.
In the recent decade, however, more than 10 million seats were created for children in high school. As a result, high school participation rates across China have increased from roughly 50% to nearly 90%. Specifically the urban and rural participation rates have increased to 93% and 70% respectively.
Undoubtedly, progress has been made, prolonging the initial fright of China’s collapse. But despite such growth, researchers have identified a list of issues that must be resolved before China can fully recover.
The good news is, these percentages show that urban students have a higher rate of high school participation than even most developing countries. The bad news, it implies that further strides must be made in rural China.
From a purely numerical perspective, there are still around 15% of students from rural China that need to be placed in high school for rural percentages to reach the required amount.
However, equally important is the concern of the quality of education. As stated by economist Eric Hanushek, “If you get kids into school, that’s good, but they better be learning. Or else it’s a waste of resources and time on both ends.” In other words, for the percentage of rural Chinese students that have been given the chance to attend high school, how can we ensure that they are learning at their maximum potential?
On the physical side, there are about 60-65% of children in rural China that have some medical condition negatively affecting their education process, such as anemia, malnourishment, or myopia to name a few.
Rural students also suffer disproportionately from mental issues. Notably, inadequately treated myopic students face symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, poor cognitive development from a lack of interactive parenting at an early age also greatly undermines a child’s learning abilities.
Ultimately, we must continue with our educational progressions to prevent China’ economy from potential collapse. Our goal must not just be to get students to school, but to do so while appropriately addressing the accompanying issues.
Luckily, there are cheap monetary solutions for the physical issues. For example, a 15¢ vitamin per day easily treats anemia in children. $20 glasses every 2 years immediately solves the issues of vision impairment.
However, a lot more work needs to be done to address the psychological issues. Annual drives for infants and toddlers can provide them with the necessary stimulation to promote the necessary cognitive developments, yet accompanying them must be parental training sessions that stress the importance of interactive parenting. The curriculum and funding in rural schools can be made up to par with urban schools, but families have to be convinced that long-term investments in education are beneficial.
Thus, acknowledging the issue is only the first step. Faced with consequences beyond just the purview of just the country, we must take on the responsibility to improve education in rural China with determination and commitment.