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Why Aren't Rural Children Completing Compulsory Education? A Survey-Based Study in China, 2003 to 2011

Working Papers

Published By

China Agricultural Economic Review

May 2020

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Purpose: Although China has instituted compulsory education through Grade 9, it is still unclear whether students are, in fact, staying in school. In this paper, the authors use a multi-year (2003–2011) longitudinal survey data set on rural households in 102–130 villages across 30 provinces in China to examine the extent to which students still drop out of school prior to finishing compulsory education.

Design/methodology/approach: To examine the correlates of dropping out, the study uses ordinary least squares and multivariate probit models.

Findings: Dropout rate from junior high school was still high (14%) in 2011, even though it fell across the study period. There was heterogeneity in the measured dropout rate. There was great variation among different regions, and especially among different villages. In all, 10% of the sample villages showed extremely high rates during the study period and actually rose over time. Household characteristics associated with poverty and the opportunity cost of staying in school were significantly and negatively correlated with the completion of nine years of schooling.

Research limitations/implications: The findings of this study suggest that China needs to take additional steps to overcome the barriers keeping children from completing nine years of schooling if they hope to either achieve their goal of having all children complete nine years of school or extend compulsory schooling to the end of twelfth grade.

Originality/value: The authors seek to measure the prevalence of both compulsory education rates of dropouts and rates of completion in China. The study examines the correlates of dropping out at the lower secondary schooling level as a way of understanding what types of students (from what types of villages) are not complying with national schooling regulations. To overcome the methodological shortcomings of previous research on dropout in China, the study uses a nationally representative, longitudinal data set based on household surveys collected between 2003 and 2011.

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