Why do primary school students drop out in poor, rural China? A portrait sketched in a remote mountain village

Other title(s): Why do primary school students drop out in poor, rural China? A portrait sketched in a remote mountain village

Author(s): Mason, Mark; Chung, Carol

Date: 2012

Pages: p. 537-545


In this paper we consider why students in poor and rural regions of China are dropping out of school in numbers that may be greater than official statistics admit. With questions about education quality among the most intractable in Education for All initiatives across the developing world, we sketch a portrait of education in a remote mountain village community as it might be painted from the perspective of a primary school dropout: a portrait in which education quality is well in the shadows. We indicate the limits of the view that commonly relates the phenomenon of school dropout primarily with poverty, a lack of school resources and inequities in resource distribution, suggesting that the picture is more nuanced and subtly shaded at local levels. Our research indicates that the education system in the radically transitional society that China is today brings with it values that clash with those of its citizens, particularly those who are marginalized and cannot easily adjust, perhaps because of their disadvantaged socio-economic, cultural and geographic location. In an ethnographic study in a poor, rural area in Yunnan province, we found significant disjunctions in values: between those of the school system and those of parents with regard to the aims and purposes of education; between those of the curriculum and those of teachers with regard to their role in the classroom vis-à-vis knowledge as represented in textbooks; between those of government education policy and the concerns of the remote rural poor with regard to resource distribution; and between those of a newly market-oriented society and educational ideals about teachers' and students' abilities. We also offer some insight into the scale and complexity of the problems associated with a lack of education quality and students' dropping out of school as a consequence, which cannot be revealed by the official 1 dropout rate.

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