Although there has been great achievement in the area of rural education in China during the past decade, rural education still faces many challenges and lags far behind education in urban areas. One of the challenges is that rural students begin primary school far behind their urban counterparts. Almost all urban children attend well-designed, high quality pre-schools. In contrast, there are few preschools in rural areas and those that do exist are generally poor in quality. Without well-designed preschool care and education, the international education literature clearly shows that most rural students, especially those that are poor, will not be ready to enter primary school. As a consequence, they will be behind in cognitive skills, language ability, numeracy, psychological and physical health and social behavior, and may never be able to catch up.
To learn more about the problem of low quality or non-existent pre-school care and education, see Behind before they begin: The challenge of early childhood education in rural China.
Our goals in this project are twofold: a) to improve the quality (software and hardware) of preschool in rural areas in order to raise the primary-school readiness of rural children; and b) to help policymakers and professional educators design policies, implementation plans and infrastructure blueprints to achieve effective Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) for children in poor, rural areas.
We will pursue three specific objectives:
1) Document the nature of China’s preschool in poor rural areas, including number of students and quality of teachers, facilities, and healthcare
2) Measure the educational readiness of rural children
3) Test the effect of preschool teacher training on educational readiness of rural children
We used a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) to measure the impact of preschool teacher training on rural children.
We randomly selected a set of sample villages, preschools, households and children within 20 townships in Lushan county, Henan province. Next, we conducted a baseline survey, collecting information on socioeconomic and educational characteristics from township officials, village leaders, preschool managers, teachers, households, and children. Our baseline survey covered:
Map of Lushan County in Henan Province in China, the location of this study
Then, we randomly divided the 20 townships into two groups, the treatment and control groups, and checked to ensure that average characteristics of the two groups were identical. .
Preschool teachers in the 10 townships in the treatment group received an intensive training course on the care and education of young children. The training covered appropriate curriculum, child-teacher interaction, daily care, etc.
Preschool teachers in the 10 townships in the control group did not received any teacher training. Preschool-aged children in these townships also completed baseline and endline measurements. We compared these children's outcomes to those of the children in the treatment group, thereby evaluating whether or not teacher training had an impact on preschool children.
The results of our baseline survey showed that the preschool system in rural areas of China is plagued by many problems. Teachers are poorly trained and facilities do not meet minimum standards. Yet the cost of attending preschools--most of which are private--is still quite high, equivalent to nearly one full year's per capita income for families at the poverty line. This no doubt further discourages participation.
Under these conditions, China's rural children have fallen far behind their urban counterparts in physical, cognitive, and social development. Our results show that more than half of children in poor rural areas are not ready for the next stage of their education, and are entering school at a disadvantage. This initial disadvantage may continue to hamper their learning ability throughout their educational careers.
Our results also showed that preschool participation was correlated with educational readiness. Therefore, it is imperative that the government expand access to preschool, especially for poor rural families. There are many opportunities to do so, including vouchers for poor families and direct and indirect support of schools.
Results of our endline survey, which measured the impact of preschool teacher training on educational outcomes, are coming soon.
Thank you to Plan International for support in implementing this project.
Thank you to Nokia for providing funding.