A developing country, China has an approximated population of over a billion people. Aside from developing unevenly in different parts of the country, education in China can be said to be somewhat backward due to its uneven distribution of schools. The unevenness can be attributed to the fact that there are no bridged gaps between education in parts of the country. These parts include the remote areas municipalities which have lesser schools and the more developed parts of the country like Beijing which have more schools (Jiang, 2005). However, as well, the development of primary education in China is an alarming achievement and can be attributed to the increased number of students enrolment from a shocking 20 percent in 1949 to an estimated 96 percent in 1985 (U.S. Library of Congress, 2009).
As well, the Nine Year Compulsory Education Law provided that primary schools in China be tuition free and be allocated in areas of convenience for students likely to attend them. As a result, this encouraged frequenting of primary schools in many villages where parents only paid a small fee that covered books and other facilities like transportation. Moreover, under this reform, students from poor families were accorded with state enterprises among other things like institutions. With the increased enrolment of students in primary schools, the major concern for the country was scarce resources and weakening of better schools (U.S. Library of Congress, 2009).
Due to such concerns like scarcity of resources in the education sector, local governments were cautioned from pursuing middle schools blindly while primary school education was in the developing process so as to ensure a better managed distribution of education resources like teaching staff. In addition, children enrolled for primary education at seven years with the curriculum consisting of a number of subjects that included Chinese, Music and Mathematics among others. As well, the primary school system consisted of flexible schedules. However, many enrollers in primary schools enrolled in the cities contrary to the number of students who enrolled in the remote areas of China with an estimated 10 percent of the enrolled students dropping out between each grade (U.S. Library of Congress, 2009).
Gansu: Educational reforms
Gansu province is located in the North West of China, providing a link between the Huang Ho in the east and Chinese Turkistan in the West of China. Due to this link, Gansu was historically used for international trade and transport. Wheat, rice, cotton, fruit among other crops are grown in Gansu and the land is also used for pastoralist activities. Petro-chemicals and machinery used in the petro-chemical industry, electronic goods and textiles are also produced in this Chinese province (Christchurch, 2009).
Its population estimated at 26.0334 million, Gansu, a multi-ethnic province is home to about 54 nationalities. About 2.199 of its population is represented by the minority population. Hui, the largest minority forms about 1.185 million of the Province’s population and is represented by ten ethnic groups. The average lifespan expected is estimated at 70.39 years (Gansu, 2004).
The state of primary education in Gansu has improved greatly over the past years. The last 30 years have seen the implementation of educational programs as well as projects which have led to a massive improvement in the primary education sector. More than 25,000 primary, middle schools and kindergartens are estimated to have been built within the past 30 years (Gansu, 2008). What is more, about 79 Counties in Gansu Province have gradually managed to popularize the compulsory primary education which goes for nine years whereas these counties have also managed to reduce the rate of illiteracy among young children and the middle aged people in Gansu. In December 2008, Yongchang No.5 Middle School located in Yongchang County was established and begun recruiting students from the rural regions (Gansu, 2008).
Additionally, school development planning was designed in 1999 with an aim of addressing a number of problems facing the rural schools. This included reducing inequality within the education system in Gansu province. The project is supported by the British Government Department for International Development (DFID). As well, the project mainly operates in the poorest Gansu counties and is managed by Gansu Provincial Education Department alongside a team of both national and international consultants offered by Cambridge Education Consultants (Seel et al, 2003).
Issues within the Primary Education System
Funding of Primary education in Gansu Province is done by the government as well as various other non-governmental organizations. For that reason, Primary education is included in the government’s budgetary allocation. It is estimated that about 72.9 and 76.5 percent of total funds set aside for education was used for Hezheng and Kangle in Gansu Province whereas the other portion is accounted for by other non-governmental sources such as social donations, revenues from institutions among other sources (Bray, Xiaohao & Ping 2003).
Nevertheless, it is estimated that revenue from institutions was much lower in Gansu Province as compared to those from other regions. This is a clear indication of the level of poverty in this Province. Further still, it also indicates that quite a number of households in Gansu are not able to raise the school fee needed to keep their children in school thus increasing the need for funding from outside sources (Bray, Xiaohao & Ping 2003).
The increased for funding from other sources calls for the involvement of other institutions as well as the implementation of various strategies to help in the funding of Primary education. As a result, there has been the use of a variety of grants for education. These include the “state-designated poor areas compulsory education project” which is a grant sponsored by the central government (Bray, Xiaohao & Ping 2003).
The decentralization of the central government’s grant system was however overdone such that an overwhelming financial load was laid upon small levels of government such as the townships as well as villages. This therefore affected the funding of Primary education in Gansu due to mismanagement of funds allocated for education (Bray, Xiaohao & Ping 2003).
Teacher quality is a major consideration in ensuring the education success. As well, its distribution plays a major role in ensuring equality in the education sector. However, being a developing country and a low resource community, recruiting and retaining of highly qualified teachers in China has for a long time become problematic thus enhancing inequality where children from poor families end up being paired with teachers with the least qualifications thus having negative impacts on the student outcomes (Hannum & Sargent, pp. 173-174).
As well, the devolution of school finance in China has enhanced the inequality of economic resources for many schools in different parts of the country including Gansu. As a result, better or highly qualified teachers have since moved to better jobs within the school system. Consequently, Gansu schools are likely to suffer from attaining and retaining qualified teachers as many of these teachers are unlikely to find satisfaction in such areas. This can be attributed to the fact that teachers find more satisfaction in communities with greater economic and social resources, schools with more opportunities in career advancement as well as schools with lighter workload (Hannum & Sargent, pp. 174-176).
As a result of teacher shortages in poor or remote areas, the education standards in such places are mostly lowered thus enhancing poor student outcomes amongst students. This can be attributed to the fact that teacher quality in relation to good knowledge of subject matter, proficiency and good qualification all encourage better achievements, performance and outcome in students. In fact, when the teaching quality is higher, the number of drop outs in turn reduces. However, other factors like availability of transportation, poor salary or remuneration, educational resources and cultural factors also enhance quality in teaching (Hannum & Sargent, pp. 176-180).
The low rate of students enrolling in schools in Gansu Province was also partially caused by the involvement of parents. Even though some parents may have been ready to enroll their children in schools, they were hindered by lack of enough funds to pay for the school fee (Seel, Shaohua & Yiping 2003, p.13). On the other hand though, some parents held negative attitudes towards education and would not allow their children to be enrolled into schools. For instance, some parents did not want their children in schools as they felt that they would not learn anything useful. It is because of such reasoning that those who had enrolled their children in schools forced them to drop out (Seel, Shaohua & Yiping 2003).
Further still, some parents did not feel comfortable enrolling their girls in schools since most of the teachers were males (Seel, Shaohua & Yiping 2003, p.13). Apart from this, parents who had enrolled their children were still not involved in the activities of the schools. Specifically, most of the men could not attend school meetings since they worked away from their villages. Moreover, parents who lived far away from the schools were certainly not involved in school activities. Some husbands and/or families did not also allow women to attend these meetings due to traditional values held (Seel, Shaohua & Yiping 2003, p.19).
Additionally, some of the poor parents distanced themselves from school activities since they were not self-assured that they could air out their views. The illiterate parents particularly felt like they knew less than the literate ones and preferred to avoid discussions. Moreover, other poor parents avoided school activities for fear that they would be expected to make donations yet they would not afford to do so (Seel, Shaohua & Yiping 2003, p.19).
GBEP (Gansu Basic Education Project)
The Gansu Basic Education Project (GBEP) is a model program which was initiated in 1999. It was mandated to oversee the education of residents living in the deprived regions of Gansu Province, with the objective of enhancing equity in learning, boosting the enrollment of students and improving the acceptability of basic learning. Sponsored by U.K’s Department for International Development (DFID), GBEP was scheduled to run for a period of 72 months and covered Kangle, Dongxiang, Hezheng and Jishishan counties of the province (Hongqi, 2005).
The process of GBEP was carried out at the following educational management hierarchies: Provincial, Prefecture, County and School District. The School Development Planning or SDP was at the core of the program (Seel, 2009). The process included recruitment of participating schools. In this regard, GBEP was established in learning centers and societies where the poverty rates were high, there was no gender parity, existing schools had inadequate resources and where there was undue pressure from religious leaders.
Other processes involved in the GBEP project were needs-based training for head teachers followed by introduction of the project to schools. Community visits, community meetings and prioritization of problems and initiatives to involve students were other processes of the project. Preparation of the SDP master plan, evaluation of the entire process, regular inspections, materials development and educational research constitute part of the process. Other processes of the project are quality training, provision of resources and enhancement of the capabilities of teacher training centers (Hongqi, 2005).
The main players involved in the reform were the Gansu Provincial Education Department and foreign and local education specialists seconded by Britain’s Cambridge Education Consultants. From the education department, administrative personnel, education directors, and the various education bureaus were involved. The individual reasons of the main players for reforming were many and varied. For the Education department, the reason for reform was to help the province attain the Universal Basic Education (UBE) goal and create a model for education that could be replicated elsewhere in the country. In addition to the UBE goal, the specialists sought to reform the system in order to come up with a model that could be used in other countries. The main players affected the reform in ways. The Education Department provided logistical and material support for the entire reform process while DFID provided the resources needed to ensure the success of the project. The specialists helped to provide technical support and training to the education administrative staff and teachers (Hongqi, 2005).
The GBEP program has had varied results. First, the project has led to higher enrollment rates (Seel, 2003). A significant rise in universal basic education (UBE) attributable to the GBEP was reported in Dongxiang and Jishishan. The project has also led to an increase in underage enrollment (Seel, 2003). Secondly, the project has resulted in improved retention rates of children. According to a review by Seel (2009), all the schools which adopted GBEP have reported higher completion rates, with fewer students dropping out of school. Thirdly, the project has increased gender parity and equity. This is reflected in the increased number of girls, ethnic minorities and the disabled students Fourth, GBEP has increased the quality of education offered by schools in the province. Besides, the project has strengthened the relationship between schools and the government (Seel, 2009).
Other results of the project include improvement in students’ academic performance and teacher skills. Additionally, the project has strengthened the relationship between schools and the surrounding communities As a result, communities are playing a bigger role in the development of schools. GBEP has also strengthened the relationship between schools and the County Education Boards. As a result, school inspections are now helping to enhance the quality of education offered. Regarding training, the project has improved the skills and knowledge of teachers and administrative staff. Improved learning and teaching conditions as evidenced by better classes, higher standards of hygiene and better learning gear, tables and chairs are as a direct result of the project. Another important result of GBEP is that it has strengthened the way schools are managed and enhanced their planning functions. Participating schools have also become more consultative and women education administrators become imbued with more confidence due to the project. Hitherto, men dominated the education system and the few women administrators lacked self-belief (Hongqi, 2005).
The project has also enhanced the services offered by the administrative units and enabled Directors adopt a customer-centric approach. Democratization of the work place and meetings is the other result of the project. As a result, managers have adopted a bottoms-up management style in place of the top-down method. Opinions from the lower echelons are valued and encouraged. The GBEP project has enabled the administrative staff to gain a deeper insight on the role of education so that they can be able to better understand the requirements of students. It has enhanced the human resource base and fostered the understanding of the administration staff on all relevant aspects such as fiscal responsibility, school inspection and so on (Hongqi, 2005).
The rampant poverty in Gansu Province has contributed to poor education standards and affected the enrollment rate. Besides poverty, other factors affecting basic education in the province include cultural factors, unavailability of transportation, poor salary or remuneration, lack of educational resources and cultural factors. The province also has relatively low teacher quality and teacher shortages are widespread. This is because the province is largely poor and hence cannot attract and retain good teachers. Lack of equity is also an issue affecting learning in the province and this is evidenced by gender disparity and low enrollment rates for the disabled and people and ethnic minorities. The GBEP was initiated by DFID with the assistance of the Gansu Provincial Education Department in order to reduce inequality in education, boost enrollment rates and help change attitudes towards learning in the province.
Suggestions for the future
By and large, the quality of the administrative personnel is still low. According to reports, training of staff and school inspection is often marred by poor skills and incapability of the personnel. To improve the quality of the administrative personnel, the following suggestions are made. First, a needs assessment should be carried out in order to determine the current levels of quality among the administrative personnel. This will help in identifying the areas which need improvement. Secondly, the ‘overall promotion plan’ and ‘key promotion plan’ for administrative personnel and employees of important units respectively need to be implemented.
Staff training is also said to be still substandard. To improve training for staff, it is suggested that an organized training program for the administrative personnel be put in place. It is also suggested that specialized training programs be organized for the different players. Hongqi (2005) asserts that there is still poor coordination between the school district, provincial, county and prefecture. To improve the coordination, it is suggested that the role of the Prefecture Education Bureau be emphasized and all players take it more seriously. The GBEP needs to be incorporated in the plans of the education board. Another suggestion includes the creation of a central office to oversee the education planning. It is also suggested that GBEP be adopted in other regions of the country
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