Friday, October 17, 2014

Poverty, education and the future of the ‘Two-Track System’ in rural China

China is a global superpower. The nation is poised to pass United States as the world’s leading economic power as early as this year. However, China's rural population has not kept pace with this growth. Disparity in income and education between rural and urban Chinese increases exponentially as the country generally thrives fiscally.

The Chinese government defines its rural poor as those people who earn a net income of ¥2,300 per year. Converted to the United States dollar, 2,300 Chinese yuan equates to about $375 per year: slightly above $1 a day.  China has made many efforts to reduce poverty in rural China since the late 1970s, including adoption of broad rural economic reform. On the whole these reform has been fruitless.

“Poverty is still a salient problem in China,” stated deputy director of the State Council Poverty Alleviation Office, Zheng Wenkai. “About 200 million Chinese, or 15% of the country’s population, would be considered poor by international poverty measures, set at $1.25 a day.” Zheng Wenkai acknowledged that these rural poor “not only live on low incomes, but also face [the] difficulties of getting education, electricity, medical care, bank loans, and so on.”
He also noted that these people are subject to inadequate infrastructure and are more vulnerable to impacts from natural disasters. Zheng Wenkai did confirm that China plans to use ‘various methods’ of poverty relief this year. China has led a 'war' on rural poverty, and has celebrated that there has been a decrease in rural poverty over the last 40 years. But, do those numbers reflecting an actual reduction in poverty? Or are they simply the product of a misconstrued causation vs. correlation analysis? My opinion is that it could be a little both, as China has certainly not been immune to the global rural-to-urban migration phenomenon that is occurring globally.

Rural-to-urban migration in China has likely been instrumental in reducing the country’s poverty rates. According to the Wall Street Journal, “[a]bout 53.7% of China’s population lived in urban areas by the end of last year, up from 40.5% a decade earlier,”
[as reported by China’s National Bureau of Statistics.] As half of the population lives in rural areas, and a large portion of that community is economically stressed, China must investigate real solutions (that is, solutions other than  migration to urban areas) for its impoverished rural population. One solution that China touts is education reform.

China has a unique education system known as the "Two-Track System". The system developed from shortages in educational resources. The Two-Track System was designed so that rural areas could be supported by local communities and county government, while urban schools were supported by the central government. This led to a separation in that yielded unequal education opportunities and relatively poor quality of education for rural students. To date, urban communities have modernized their education system and content with materials matching the evolving technology, growing economy, and globalization, but the rural schooling system is stagnant.

China has previously attempted educational reform attempts. In December 27, 2005, the government announced that China would spend 218 billion yuan (27.25 billion U.S. dollars) through 2010 to improve rural education. However, it seems that these efforts were somewhat frustrated. During the economic crisis, many migrant and rural children’s schools were actually closed. This displaced many rural students, forcing them to attend a geographically centralized schools. This means that rural students either have to travel great distances to attend school, or wait for another school to be made available to them.

China has vowed to reduce the number of rural people in poverty by 10 million this year, as it celebrates ‘China Poverty Alleviation Day’ this October.
For this to occur, I believe better funding of rural Chinese schools is of critical importance.

China was on the right track with the 2005 yuan pledge to rural schools. For reform to be successful long-term, China must make sure that it delivers primary education to rural China. For primary education in China and rural China to be successful overall, the nation needs to recognize that funding for education must expand beyond that of the local government. In addition to financial aid to the institutions, China could increase teacher salary in these areas, provide scholarships to student’s families, as well as provide for a form of rural affirmative action at the secondary and college level.

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