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The China Education Project

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TCEP is dedicated to educating and improving the lives of rural Chinese students and their communities...


In China, education is central to culture and society. It has therefore been greatly influenced by the economic and social changes of the last decade. While China's economy is closely watched by the rest of the world, it is often forgotten that education is the long-term engine behind economic development. In the realm of education, rural areas form the bottleneck of development. Not only is the gap between poor rural areas and cities already large, many rural areas also hardly benefit from the country's overall economic growth.

The educational, health and nutritional status of these remaining absolute poor is deplorable. In the poorest villages, as many as half of the boys and nearly all of the girls do not attend school and will not achieve literacy. Infant and maternal mortality rates and in very poor counties exceed 10 percent and 0.3 percent respectively (or at least 50 percent to 100 percent greater than the national average), and are greater yet in the poorest townships and villages.

Most of China's absolute poor reside in mountainous areas with low rainfall and limited carrying capacity. Among them, minority peoples and those with disabilities represent a highly disproportionate share. Ethnic minority groups (only 9 percent of the total population) account for about 40 percent of the absolute poor, and often live in the deepest poverty. Minority autonomous counties also account for more than 40 percent of the nationally-designated poor counties. The disparity exists because programs have often failed to reach the most remote areas, where the obstacles to poverty relief are greatest.


China has a very unequal distribution of income, with a small group of people owning the bulk of the wealth. While the world average ratio of city vs countryside income is about 1.5, in China it is 5.9 (official: 3.5). The central government is trying to levy higher and higher taxes on the high (> 20000 RMB/year) incomes, but this is a sensitive area of policy-making and it goes very slowly. Moreover, the Chinese government spends relatively little on education (3.1%). The country's large economic growth does not benefit areas equally; on the contrary, it is making the income distribution even more unbalanced. These income distribution and employment problems have a very complex social and political nature and cannot be changed overnight.

Quality of education and success of students are directly related to the economic situation of the locality. Elementary and junior middle school are directly funded by local taxes. China suffers from economic divides at different levels: between western/northern and eastern/southern provinces, within provinces between cities and countryside, and within towns and villages between rich and poor people. Lack of money affects the countryside in many ways: schools cannot afford good teachers, small classes, good teaching materials, and maintenance of the buildings. Moreover, if the town or village is poor, parents will more often want their child to go work rather than pursue further education. In rural areas, senior high school students constitute only 20% of their age group, while this is 70% in cities. Some people in rural areas are desparate. Even when they work very hard, they cannot send their child to a good school. They lack money and connections, a Beijing lawyer told me. Rural students who manage to enter university, have to struggle because tuition fees have increased a lot over the last years and scholarships are scarcely available.


Mission Statement

The China Education Project (TCEP) is dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged young people in rural China through education. It is founded on the belief that as children are empowered to realize their potential, they will enrich their villages and contribute to the world we all share. By providing opportunities for education, we are giving children the chance for a better tomorrow, while lightening the burdens of today.


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Copyright 2001, The China Education Project