China’s grim rural boarding schools

FRIDAY is a good day for eight-year-old Yang Zongtao. He will see his mother and baby sister after spending the week boarding at Jiaoba Central Primary School in Guizhou, a southern province and one of China’s poorest. He misses his mother “a bit”, he says stoically. But the walk from his home takes an hour, too long to undertake alone each day. So, like millions of pupils in China’s countryside, he remains at school all week (some stay longer). There are rural children who start boarding as early as the age of three.

Educating rural people has long been a challenge. In the 1990s almost every village had a primary school or “teaching point”, where children aged between six and ten often attended class in a single room. But school enrolments began to fall because of plummeting birth rates and migration to cities. Local governments responded by closing underused village schools and pooling resources in larger ones such as Jiaoba’s. In 2001 it became national policy to merge schools this way. Between 2000 and 2015 nearly three-quarters of all rural primary schools, more than 300,000 of them, were shut.

Because journeys to school are now longer on…Continue reading


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