Dropout rates running at 40 percent! This was the startling discovery when in mid-June, reporters from China Youth Daily investigated rural education in 17 middle schools in 14 counties across Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Henan, Shandong, and Hubei provinces. Though these rural areas are not considered particularly poor, survey responses from the teachers there had revealed an extraordinary dropout rate among junior secondary school students. At about 40 percent it is way above the reported national average of 3 percent. The survey was conducted by the Rural Education Research Institute of the Northeast Normal University.
The teachers said that their students are dropping out because they are just plain fed-up with their studies.
"The fact is that whenever a working group from a higher authority comes on an inspection visit, the dropouts are called back to make up the numbers and conceal the real dropout rate," said one teacher from a remote village of Shuangliao City in northeast China's Jilin Province.
"The real dropout rate can be as high as 50 percent in some of the more remote areas, though the figure is 20-30 percent in the suburbs. The average is 40 percent," he said.
Another teacher who had been a class adviser in Dengfeng County of Jilin Province for six years said that in his school the junior secondary first grade usually began a new semester with about 110 students. However, by the second grade there might be only 100 with the figure dropping to 60 at the end of the third grade and just 50 by the time the final examination comes around.
"In some counties, in order to improve the statistics reported to the higher authorities, the better students, who have hopes of continuing their studies, are usually organized into a single small class. Meanwhile the other students are put into 'professional technical classes'. Here the reality is they can do as they like but will still get their graduation diplomas. The dropout phenomenon is particularly severe in the rural areas," said one expert participating in the investigation.
According to the teachers sampled, it is the junior secondary school students in the second grade who account for the greater part of the dropout rate. This is when they get to know who will and who will not be able to stay on in education and move on to higher level schools.
On the one hand, once students see they're not going to catch up they soon tire of their school studies. On the other hand, when the parents realize their children will not be going on to higher studies they simply let them return home to help them in the fields or make a living through unskilled work.
"After all the main reason is that students are fed up with their studies," said a teacher surnamed Zhang from a middle school in Shuangliao City. "Out of ten who dropout, only one will have actually been prevented from coming by his or her parents. The other nine will just have tired of their studies and left their parents no real choice."
Statistics gathered in the survey showed that 53 percent of the dropout students sampled said they were tired of their studies.
"Examination-oriented education puts a lot of pressure on the students while studies aimed at improving their all-round qualities seldom come with opportunities for practical applications," said a rural middle school teacher surnamed Han. "The students view the curriculum as difficult and of little practical use. And with few musical, sports and artistic activities, they don't have much opportunity for fun at school."
Meanwhile Teacher Zhang said, "The schools are short of facilities and it's difficult to make dry theoretical teaching attractive to the students. There is no audio classroom at my school. The library is not open to the students. The laboratory is too small for the students to get involved in experiments. Sometimes, teachers have to take their own equipment into the classroom to do experiments. My own school has no advanced computers other than a dozen old 286 or 386 machines down-washed from urban middle schools so the teachers cannot do decent class-work."
The overall picture
The Ministry of Education reported on April 28 that education in China had developed steadily during 2003. More opportunities to study in school were offered and the gross school attendance rates at all levels of study continued to rise.
In 2003 compulsory education in China further extended its coverage. Another 51 counties and districts together with 12 county-level units met the "two basic requirements". This means they were providing a full nine-years of compulsory education and had essentially eliminated illiteracy among their young people.
91.8 percent of the population now lives in areas where the "two basic requirements" are met. Some 98.6 percent of primary school age children entered school and the middle school attendance rate reached 92.7 percent, which was up 2.7 percent year-on-year. The dropout rates in primary and junior middle school were given as 0.34 percent and 2.84 percent, respectively.
(China.org.cn by Li Jingrong June 25, 2004)