New York Times: China’s School Dropouts a Growing Concern for Economy in Transition

Reuters/The New York Times write about REAP's research on early childhood development. Read the original article here.

According to data from China’s 2010 census, 76 percent of China’s labor force had not attended high school. Even more concerning, according to the same data only 8 percent of working age individuals in rural China (where the majority of the population resides) had ever attended high school. These low levels of educational achievement suggest that China is facing a human capital deficit that could leave workers ill-equipped to compete in China’s developing economy. This situation has been recognized by individuals in government, such as Cai Jianhua, a government official at China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, who said, "The reality is we need smart people if we're going to be competitive in the 21st century."

"This is the biggest problem that China faces that no one knows about. This is an invisible problem," said Scott Rozelle, co-director of the Rural Education Action Program (REAP) at Stanford University, "China has the lowest levels of human capital (out of all the middle income countries in the world today). China is lower than South Africa, lower than Turkey. We think that's related to when they were babies, they didn't develop well.”

One cause of these low levels of human capital is parental absence during early childhood. In rural China, it is common for parents to live and work in cities full time while their child remains in their home village with a surrogate caregiver (typically the child’s grandmother). Because grandparents generally have less energy, lower levels of education, and are less receptive to adopting new parenting techniques, there is reason to believe that parental migration could negatively affect the cognitive development of young children.

To begin to combat these barriers to human capital development before they emerge, China's National Health and Family Planning Commission is working with Rozelle and his colleagues to establish early childhood development centers in rural China. Researchers with REAP believe that 300,000 centers are needed across China, and that implementing a program of this size requires government leadership. In the 50 pilot centers, children aged six months to three years old are provided with materials and experiences that encourage their cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development. In these centers, children can experience books, play with toys, and interact with other children. Additionally, the centers provide caregivers with knowledge on how to interact with their child in a enriching manner.