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Rural education must cater to needs of countryside

By Zhou Zhaohai | 2015-10-22 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Ways to truly enhance rural education


Cartoon by Gou Ben; Poem by Long Yuan


Like the seedling in the spring,
A student needs the light of learning to grow
And be given all the gifts,
That education can bestow.
To explain the different results schooling yields,
One must look at how conditions vary,
From the skyscrapers to the fields.
To be more equal in the awarding of degrees,
Rural regions require more financial subsidies.
Policy support is the smart decision,
To truly enhance rural education
With a strategic vision.


Since the reform and opening up, China has made remarkable achievements in educational development. In the 21st century, the gap between urban and rural education has narrowed in terms of teachers, investment and utilization of information technology, but many challenges still lie ahead for rural education.

The prevailing view on the problems of rural education is that the differences in the management of urban and rural societies are to blame, so the issue can only be addressed by changing institutions. On the other hand, some think that rural education is simply a copy of the urban model and lacks its own characteristics. They argue it is important to preserve traditional rural culture and make rural education reflective of it. 

However, both views set urban and rural education in opposition instead of taking into consideration the integrated development of urban and rural areas, which is bound to reorient major educational policies in favor of the disadvantaged with regard to certain prominent issues while neglecting the systematic development of urban and rural education. 

To tackle the situation, rural education should be placed within the framework of unified national social development and supported by phased policies, with efforts made to bring its major functions into full play. 

Advancing social rank
In traditional agricultural society, urban and rural areas were inhabited by groups placed within a hierarchical social structure. In cities, the major grouping was the so-called gentleman class comprising social managers, who were landlords and bureaucrats, along with their subordinates, consisting of servants and armies. The countryside was dominated by peasants, called “barbarians,” and landlords. 


Generally, urban-rural relations were not only a result of social production but also of social management. In society, there is a universal trend that the closer a group is to agricultural production, the lower its social rank. The closer one is to the power center, the higher one’s social rank. 

Therefore, amid the development of hierarchical urban and rural societies, it is necessary to value the function of education for rural students as a way to advance their social rank. For thousands of years, Chinese peasants have strived to break away from agricultural production and progress in social ranking, and education has traditionally been the primary path for them to achieve this goal. 

In this sense, education is an instrument to most peasants. The overarching goal of rural education is therefore to take rural students to a higher social rank. 

Preparing for urban life
In addition, consideration should be given to the role of rural education in the integration of urban and rural societies. Considering the established hierarchy in urban and rural societies and the ongoing influx of rural population to cities, we should, through education, instill in rural students what life, work and interpersonal communication are like in modern cities to narrow the psychological gap between urbanites and villagers, helping them to better adapt to cities and understand social development after they enter cities in the future.

Moreover, the quality of rural education should be improved. This aims not only to strike a balance between urban and rural education but also to give rural and urban students equal opportunities to climb up the social ladder by lending them exceptional support.

Rebuilding social order
Traditional rural society is dominated by ritual. Peasants consciously comply with various rites in their lives. However, the value system and social structure of traditional rural society have been impacted by successive social movements since modern times. Consequently, peasants have gradually abandoned conventional customs, blood lineages and status hierarchies and turned to national regulations and markets.

Their position in national regulations has become their primary social label, and their income determines their social status. Especially after the reform and opening up, rural society has been swept up in the tide of the market economy. 

Increasingly frequent information exchanges between the countryside and the outside, along with population outflow, has accelerated the collapse of social structure in which traditional villages support and coordinate with each other. Peasants are more and more aware of and concerned about their own rights and interests. 

As rural society becomes increasingly individualized, priority should be given to the vital role education plays in reshaping order in rural areas. As it was mentioned earlier, the abandonment of traditions, exodus of elites and prevailing selfishness have deprived rural society of shared values, civilizing ability and governance capacity. 

To revive and sustain traditional rural society, efforts should be made to restructure rural society, establish shared values and enhance governance capacity from top to bottom. Education is the primary, most common and most practical way to attain these goals. 

Education plays a huge role in solving existing problems in rural areas. Therefore, it is important to design targeted education content to raise the awareness of rural commoners to their problems, revive traditional ethic and moral rules, and strengthen their ability to govern their own communities. 

Shaping personality
Furthermore, attention should be paid to the function of education as a means of shaping rural students’ personalities. In traditional society, the aim of education is to teach students to conform to norms and make them homogenous.

In an individualized society, however, individuals must live independently and be responsible for themselves, so rural education should cater to the needs of individualization to cultivate rural students accordingly and fully prepare them for life-long challenges. 

In addition, it should also give rural students a sense of law, social morality and responsibility to help them discipline themselves, improve their sense of social responsibility and educate the awareness of contributing to social development.

Rural education has been given different value functions. Boiled down to its fundamentals, it falls into the category of elementary education, so its orientation towards elementary education should be prioritized.

In an era that increasingly focuses  on personal development, social cooperation and self-awareness, elementary education should be carried out on the basis of personal and social development and common well-being. 

With the function of elementary education stressed, education should aim to help rural students develop their own abilities, including interpersonal skills and judgment capacity as well as the ability to learn and apply knowledge, express emotion, and analyze problems. These abilities form the basis for individuals to adapt to modern society.

Whether entering a higher level of schooling or society, rural students will have to face new social environments and run into a variety of complicated problems. By helping them acquire these abilities, education can help rural students to better develop themselves, blend into society and make contributions, thereby fulfilling their potential.

Promoting happiness
It is important to realize the role of education in promoting a positive outlook on life in rural students. Happiness in life stems from human knowledge about and identity with the known world as well as their pursuit of the certainty of the unknown.


To rural students, the known world refers to their knowledge about themselves and rural society, while the unknown includes what remains unknown about themselves and cities. Education is the bridge to connect the known and unknown worlds, making them feel happy about life.

If they know about only one of the two worlds, they will feel rootless in future life. We should, through education, help rural students know about themselves as well as the urban and rural societies they are in to better enable them to foster life convictions and pursuits.

Zhou Zhaohai is from the Institute of Rural Education at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, Jilin Province.