Rural Schools Closing Down With Dramatic Enrollment Drops in Shanxi – China Economy Weekly
A side effect of China’s yawning economic inequality. Translated by CDT from China Economy Weekly magazine (‰∏≠ÂõΩÁªèÊµéÂë®Âàä):
Liu Jianbing (ÂàòÂª∫ÂÖµ), a pseudonym, was recently a principal of a rural elementary school at Shuozhou City (ÊúîÂ∑û) in Shanxi Province. He just resigned from the school, after years of continual dropping of enrollments at his school. In 2004 when he started at the school there were more than 130 students. Now, only 30 some students hang on, five or six per class, too small even by Western standards.
“Although the state subsidies to rural schools have been a nice help per student, but with so few students, the financial assistance is not even enough for burning the coal in the school,” Liu grudged. And he is not alone in many of the rural schools in Shuozhou.
But in cities and towns, things look drastically different. In an unidentified town also in Shuozhou, swarms of parents waited outside the school gate before a September noon, flooding the road in front of the school while choking some of the bicycle traffic. “There are too many kids,” one parent complained. Now there are 80-90 students in each class, after a lot of transfers from rural school districts in recent years, the parent said.
Ren Yuezhong (‰ªªÊúàÂø†), a basic education official at Shanxi’s provincial education bureau, said dropping enrollments have become a major problem in education, which is happening to various degrees across the whole country. It has been a result of imbalanced economic development, rural labor migration to the cities, and more importantly, the underdevelopment of rural education, Ren said.
Although Beijing invests 70% of its basic education budget into the rural development, it is still not stopping good teachers from moving to the cities, where both pay and opportunity are greater, and aspiring teachers don’t feel that they are becoming a “peasant” themselves. A visit to a village school found only two college-trained teachers are holding out, while about a dozen others have all returned to the cities or towns.
With the urban schools draining the teaching talent, rural school children and their parents are also flooding city school districts, hiking the rental market and crowding the already pressured school facilities in towns. A normal ratio of urban to rural student population is supposed to be 1:2, but in Shuozhou the ratio is reversed. For one district, 80% of its elementary school children go to the ten schools around the district government seat, or its downtown area.
For Shanxi, Ren hopes a new, rural-urban teacher exchange program will help reverse the dangerous trend. A Shuozhou education official said a pilot program last year had some good results. But Ren noted that still, it will be a difficult task to achieve real success. [Full Text in Chinese]