The rural poor shut out from China’s higher education

I saw a discussion here. The topic is intriguing. City dwellers like me usually don’t notice the great gap between rural and urban China in terms of education opportunities. It is worth the time to take a deep look into this problem.

The data shows the astounding difference in the number of Chinese college students from rural and urban areas. Peking University, the Harvard in China, had about one third of their students from rural areas during 1978 to 1998. From mid 1990s, the proportion started to fall, and today students with rural background constitute less than twenty percent of the overall student population.

Shouldn’t education be a tool for the hardworking youth to change their fate? The famous saying “Knowledge can change your fate” seems to be absent here. Students from rural areas lack the educational resources and family background to go to top universities.

In China, the quality of education varies considerably across regions. Renowned high schools have well-organized curriculum and adequately trained teachers. Students there are guaranteed a bright future. Moreover, there are thirteen foreign languages schools across the nation which have the privilege to send students to universities without going through the college entrance examination. They only need to pass some language examinations and can enter the top universities to study languages, sometimes even other majors (as is in the case of Tsinghua University).

In rural China, however, the teachers themselves are not knowledgable. Neither do they have the knowledge of what the exam papers will be like. Schools in the rural areas do not have good equipment, so many students there have never learnt about experiments. They just memorize the theories from the textbook.

The city dwellers do not only enjoy concentrated educational resources, they also have the advantage to keep in touch with the “outside” world. Their scope is much wider than their rural peers. When it comes to the special exams that top universities arrange to pre admit good students, urban students feel more at ease with the topics which have a lot of international content.

Family background also comes into play. Having a rich dad can save you a lot of efforts. You can get into a famous high schools, learn from your outstanding peers and excellent teachers, and “have a global perspective” (as is often emphasized by the top universities). But being in the countryside does you nothing good. Your family background cannot help you. I have even seen students who are too ignorant of the registration system to wrongly put down their priorities when choosing which university to attend. Then they are left with even fewer opportunities to change their life.

The difficulties for the rural students to go to good universities have set up a great obstacle for them to move up to a higher class. The rich becomes richer. The poor becomes poorer. To solve the problem, we need more balanced educational resources, as well as a carefully designed and relatively fair selection system.


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