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Combating dropout rates in compulsory education

2018-02-23 10:52:00

In 2017, 93.8% of students enrolled in China’s nine-year compulsory education system finished their course of study, marking a 0.04% increase on 2016. The gross enrollment rates in primary schools and junior high schools were 99.92% and 104.0% respectively. The attendance rate of students in the nine-year compulsory education exceeded average levels recorded in high-income countries. Some areas, however, still suffer from persistent drop-out rates. As such, measures are still required to combat this problem, so as to ensure that no child is left out of education.

According to CHEN Wentao, deputy head of the division in charge of compulsory education at the Ministry of Education (MOE), since 2006, and in particular since implementation of various measures, including the mechanism for guaranteeing financial support for compulsory education, and tuition and textbook fees exemptions and provision of boarding grants for economically disadvantaged students, the dropout rate in primary education has been kept below 1%, and the dropout rate in junior high schools has remained stable at under 3% except for a few isolated areas.

Nevertheless, in some poor and remote areas, the dropout rate remained relatively high.

Chen added that recent years had seen a significant change in the reasons why and the age at which children dropped out of school: whilst the number of students leaving the education system because of poverty or remoteness had shrunk, today the cause appeared to center around difficulty in keeping up with studies. 2016 figures showed that 60% of those who left school did so because they couldn’t keep up with the academic pace or were being hindered by academic fatigue, and most of them dropped out of school during the second or third year of junior high.

According to WU Zhihui, a researcher on rural education, learning difficulties stem from multiple factors. First, in the recent trend of the restructuring and relocation of rural schools, numerous students have to move to other schools and change teachers, which can be very disruptive to their study; secondly, there is the problem of some rural schools blindly following urban school approaches, for example, using the same textbooks and teaching methods, which is not necessarily suitable for meeting the needs of rural students. During junior high school years when more subjects are taught and the syllabus becomes harder, students may encounter more learning difficulties than in their primary school years.

In 2017, the General Office of the State Council issued a circular asking for measures to be put in place to combat dropout rates and ensure that all children of school age were kept in the compulsory education system. The target set for 2020 requires that a minimum of 95% of students enrolled in the nine-year compulsory education finish their course of study.

Chen went on to say that the MOE had launched a project to compare registered student data with the National Population Database, and joining hands with the Ministry for Civil Affairs, it had already managed not only to identify 18,800 “left-behind children” (children left behind in rural areas while their parents work in urban areas) who were not in school, but had also managed to persuade 17,700 of them to resume their studies. The MOE will also combine its efforts with local governments to set up long-term mechanisms and implement a series of targeted policies to improve the quality of education in rural schools, integrate vocational education into rural junior high schools, offer sufficient support to students with learning difficulties and introduce measures to help them keep up with the pace of academic study.

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