Ensuring compulsory education nationwide, so that all school-age children receive nine years of basic education, has been a key agenda for the government since the 1980s. While the proportion of students dropping out has been reduced over the past three decades, the reason for students taking such a course of action varies along with the country’s development.
The State Council, China’s Cabinet, recently came out with a slew of measures to ensure the implementation of compulsory education, mainly targeting the new causes for it in recent years.
The State Council’s executive meeting, presided over by Premier Li Keqiang on July 19, stressed optimizing education expenses and further secured financial support for compulsory education, as well as improving education quality, and tackling the imbalance in rural areas.
According to a statement released after the meeting, the government will subsidize students from less well-off families to prevent them dropping out, especially for those with physical disabilities and students with parents who have a physical disability. The government will also optimize the location of schools and build more boarding schools, so that students will not drop out due to long distances to travel or inconvenient transportation.
It was also suggested that educational departments at all levels should work to give more help and support to students who may face difficulties in studying, while teaching content and the curriculum also need to be improved, so that school becomes a more attractive place.
All these measures aim to secure that the rate of compulsory education reaches no lower than 95 percent.
Chu Zhaohui, senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, welcomed the new measures, calling them “very targeted”.
He said the current rate for compulsory education across China is about 92 percent.
“In the past, rural students of primary school age are a major proportion of the population of school dropouts, mainly due to poverty and being not able to afford school tuition fees. But in recent years, with incomes rising and government paying more for basic education, financial difficulty is not the major reason for school dropouts. Nowadays, teenagers in rural areas and townships are the major group for not completing compulsory education,” Chu pointed out.
He said these students want to leave school mainly because they fail to get good grades and feel reluctant to go into middle school, as their confidence is damaged.
He said this can be solved by increasing the diversity of teaching content and students’ evaluation indexes, which is part of the State Council meeting’s decision.
“Currently most students feel discouraged by their poor performances at school mainly because of bad results in exams, feeling they have no hope of getting into high school or universities,” Chu said. “But if we can make the education content more diversified and not too exam-oriented, students are likely to find that studying is actually fun, regardless what score they get in exams.”
The premier said at the July 19 State Council meeting that the government “should not only guarantee the basic living standards of the public, but also ensure that eligible children, especially those from poverty-affected families, receive compulsory education to help eliminate poverty among those families”, stressing that poverty should not continue from one generation to another.
Chu said another major reason for those school dropouts is these students have difficulty adjusting to boarding school.
China started an overhaul to establish centralized school buildings in the late 1990s, canceling a number of schools with very few teachers and students in rural areas. These students were then put in schools in townships and counties with better education resources, teachers and equipment. Yet a consequence, Chu said, is that many students with homes in villages have to board due to long distances. But many were too young, he said.
“We did field investigations on the reason why many students decide to quit school back in 2011 and visited a number of primary boarding schools in Hebei province as well as the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. And we noticed that many children at the age of 7 or 8 at boarding school can barely take care of themselves, such as getting up on time, sleeping without their parents and washing clothes,” Chu said.
He suggested that an appropriate age for students to go to boarding school is 10.
“At the same time, schools need to have dorm teachers who are, in particular, responsible for taking care of children’s daily lives for those under 10,” he suggested.