Rural China's tough lessons in resilience

Qiao Tou Lian He elementary school Qiao Tou Lian He elementary school: Most of the children are from poor uneducated families

Students in Shanghai have the highest results in international Pisa tests. But what is the state of education for China's rural poor, far away from the showcase cities? Andreas Schleicher, who runs the Pisa tests, went to find out.

About 1,900 miles south west of Shanghai is Qiao Tou Lian He elementary school.

It's an hour's drive from the town of Tengchong, which might seem a small distance in comparison, but most of the school's children have never made it to Tengchong.

Providing an education for children in such sparsely-populated rural areas is one of China's major challenges.

While the economic and social development of these rural regions has been remarkable, China's coastal cities are racing ahead at an even faster pace.

Pupils left behind

That fuels an endless stream of people moving to the cities - students looking for better education, parents looking for work, but also good teachers who are looking for more fulfilling careers.

Qiao Tou Lian He elementary school Queuing for food: Children spend all week at school as it is too far to walk home

Shanghai alone registers 1,000 additional cars each day bought by those who have made it up the social ladder.

But what about those children who remain behind in the rural areas or in the mountains?

China has begun to consolidate rural schools into bigger schools which can provide a critical mass of teachers and services.

It is never easy to amalgamate schools like this. For generations schools have been the heart of villages and when the children leave, communities see their future endangered.

PISA TESTS AND CHINA

Students taking exams
  • There is no national result for China in the international Pisa tests in maths, reading and science
  • Shanghai and Hong Kong had top results, entering as separate school systems in the tests taken by 15 year olds
  • There were criticisms that the results for Shanghai and Hong Kong were unrepresentative of China and overlooked lower achieving regions
  • For the next round of Pisa tests in 2015 a wider range of provinces and municipalities will take part, but there is not expected to be a national test result for China

There have been serious implementation problems, most notably around transportation, that have bogged down progress and in some areas brought the merger process to a halt.

But Qiao Tou Lian He school is an example that is well on its way.

It offers children from four former remote schools educational opportunities that neither they nor their parents could have ever had in their villages.

In terms of standards, the maths classes seem to be at least at the same level you would see in a European classroom. As in Shanghai, virtually all of the students perform at a level that is consistently high.

And keep in mind, these are children whose parents will usually have had no education whatsoever.

The first thing that catches the eye is that in this poor neighbourhood of simple houses and farmlands, it is the school rather than the shopping centre that has the cleanest and most impressive building.

Most of the children stay for the week as they have to walk for several hours to reach their homes, so the school has become their family.

However, this school of 714 children can afford just 29 staff, which means that these primary school children have to assume an incredible amount of individual and social responsibility, with very limited social and emotional support from adults.

Their dormitory is an array of tiny rooms that each hold 12 beds and 18 children.

The rooms are in impeccable order, with the belongings of each child tidily arranged.

Resilience

A cheerful squad of 10, 11 and 12 year olds walk from room to room, with notebooks in which they record issues around hygiene and discipline. They help the smaller children as best as they can.

Anhui province, farmer, with High rise ambitions: Rural China has seen a rapid process of urbanisation

An extraordinary workload rests on the small teaching staff. There are teaching and non-teaching duties, which leaves just a single teacher to oversee the social life of this dormitory, with the many needs of these hundreds of small children.

Education systems around the world want to make children "resilient", so that they can persist in a changing world, trying, failing, adapting, learning and evolving.

Few children will be better prepared for this than the students of Qiao Tou Lian He school, even if the price for this is so high.

It will not be easy when the students go home, they often have no one to talk to, their parents may be working far away, and even if they are at home, they may not understand the world that is opening up to these children.

Teaching the teachers

Teaching conditions in Qiao Tou Lian He school are tough.

In many countries, results can be severely impeded if a quarter or more of the students come from disadvantaged educational backgrounds. Here every child comes from a poor background.

Across a bridge in Shanghai, January 2014 Many parents have moved to cities such as Shanghai to find work

In Shanghai, teachers have smaller classes and can rely on much better initial preparation and more extensive training. They spend 70% of their time teaching and 30% of their time learning, often in collaboration with teachers from other schools.

Qiao Tou Lian He is on its own. But the teachers here show an amazing commitment and have a positive atmosphere in every classroom. It is rigorous, highly disciplined and yet joyful.

The dynamic leader of the school is Mr Huang, who became a principal at the age of 25 not because he had specific training, but because he had been the only educated person in his village.

He has an impressive vision and determination to overcome whatever barriers stand in the way of advancing his school.

He is squarely focused on supporting, developing and evaluating his teachers, only a handful of whom have a high school degree and more than basic teacher training.

Mr Huang helps teachers to work together to develop good practice and wants to provide intelligent pathways for their careers.

There are competitions for teachers here too and one of the language classes is taught by a local competition winner.

Over lunch in his office, Mr Huang explains how he works with individual teachers on any weaknesses in their practices.

He motivates his teachers to make the necessary changes. There are high expectations and a collective belief in their ability to make a difference for every child. Teachers and principal seem to share the belief in the possibilities for all children to achieve.

Willing to learn

Mr Huang keeps close track of teacher performance, looking at both student achievement and classroom management.

Pupils at Qiao Tou Lian He elementary school Pupils have to take responsibility for themselves from a young age

Over time, he also hopes to bring parents along, offering workshops for them not just on how to support their children's education but also on how to become good parents.

It requires effort from children too. A pupil called Min explains that his greatest joy is to read books in a bookstore, not around the corner, but a good two-hour walk from his home.

There are also projects to improve the quality of teaching. Teach for China is supporting more than 80 schools by recruiting some of the most promising young graduates who will teach in rural schools for two years.

China seems to have been able to convince its citizens to make sacrifices today for a better future tomorrow.

This is a country where everyone is willing to learn, students are learning for a better life, teachers are learning to improve their teaching, schools compare themselves eagerly with other schools and, perhaps most importantly, the system as a whole is willing and able to learn.

Whether China wants to design a better sewer system, retirement system or school system, it sends key people in the relevant sector to visit the world's best performers.

They find out how they do it and try to put together a design for China that is superior to anything that they have seen anywhere else.

More on This Story

Knowledge economy

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    DATA BREACH 12:30:
    View of a computer hard disk memory mechanism. 15/05/2007

    French computer storage specialist LaCie has said credit card details and passwords of shoppers who used its site may have been stolen. The hard-disk maker said the FBI had alerted it to "indications" of a hacker having used malware to copy details entered into its online store.

     
  2.  
    BITCOIN ATM 12:11:
    25/02/2014 bitcoin

    BTC China, one of the country's leading digital currency exchanges, has installed China's first cash machine for bitcoin. The firm has also produced software to trade it, even after a central bank crackdown on the currency, says Reuters. In December, the People's Bank of China banned financial institutions from trading in bitcoin, saying the government would act to prevent money laundering risks from the digital currency.

     
  3.  
    FOOD BANKS 11:54:
    File photo dated 20/12/11 of workers at a food bank

    A food bank charity says it has handed out 913,000 food parcels in the last year, up from 347,000 the year before. The Trussell Trust said a third were given to repeat visitors but that there was a "shocking" 51% rise in clients. BBC's Brian Milligan found out more.

     
  4.  
    CO-OP 11:39:
    Former Co-op Bank boss Paul Flowers arrives to answer bail in connection with alleged drugs supply offences, at Stainbeck Police Station, Leeds, 16/04/14.

    Paul Flowers, the former Co-op Bank chairman, has been charged with drug possession, prosecutors have said. Mr Flowers was arrested in November following newspaper allegations he was involved in a drug deal. He had stepped down from the Co-op six months earlier over concerns about his expenses. He has been charged with two counts of possession of a class A drug and one count of possession of a class C drug.

     
  5.  
    WAGES 11:25: Via Email Jonty Bloom Business correspondent, BBC News

    "The ONS has added the figures up for us about average earnings since they fell below CPI in July 2008. Since then, inflation has increased prices by 16.9% and average earnings have increased by 8.6%. Which I hope puts this 0.1% increase in earnings over wages in context."

     
  6.  
    TRAINS Via Twitter Richard Westcott BBC transport correspondent

    tweets: RMT says: "They will in fact be built in Japan and shipped flat-packed to the North East where they will be bolted back together."

     
  7.  
    MARKET UPDATE 11:10:

    Shares in London have lost some of their early gains. The FTSE 100 is now up 0.3%. Tesco shares are up 3.3% after it reported better than expected profits. Sports Direct shares are leading the FTSE 100 higher with a 6.4% gain. That is being attributed to Bank of America Merrill Lynch classing the company's shares as a "buy".

     
  8.  
    TRAINS Via Twitter Richard Westcott BBC transport correspondent

    tweets: "RMT not pulling any punches on IEP deal.."it is a bare-faced lie to claim that these trains will be built in the UK""

     
  9.  
    YAHOO RESULTS 10:58:
    Marissa Mayer

    Watch Yahoo shares when trading gets underway in the US today. Late on Tuesday it reported a 20% fall in first quarter earnings to $312m (£187m). But that was better than expected and shares rose in after hours trading. Chief executive Marissa Mayer said she was "really pleased" with the performance.

     
  10.  
    RUSSIA ECONOMY 10:46:
    Russian flags

    The attention of Russian President Vladimir Putin may be focused on the situation in Ukraine. But at home the economy is in trouble. News agency AFP, reports that Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said the economy contracted 0.5% in the first quarter of this year, compared with the final quarter of last year. That figure is adjusted for seasonal variation.

     
  11.  
    "PEAK BEARD" 10:36:
    Jeremy Paxman

    Readers of the Business live page may have heard of the term "peak oil" - the time when the global production of oil starts to decline. So, how about "peak beard" - the moment when facial hair falls into decline.

     
  12.  
    CHINA SOUTHERN AIRLINES 10:28:
    China Southern planes, Beijing

    China's biggest airline, China Southern Airlines has warned of a loss of more than $50m in the first three months of the year. It blamed a fall in the Chinese currency for its losses. In March the Chinese yuan hits its lowest level against the dollar in more than a year. Chinese airlines typically finance the purchase of aircraft in US dollars, so a stronger dollar raises their debt burden.

     
  13.  
    STERLING RISES 10:16:
    Ten pound notes

    The pound surged higher against the dollar after those labour market statistics. It is now up 0.5% at $1.6815. That is close to its high for the year, which was hit in mid-February.

     
  14.  
    ALIBABA 09:57:
    Alibaba Group at its headquarters on the outskirts of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province

    Chinese internet retailer Alibaba says revenue growth accelerated in the last quarter of 2013. The company posted a 66% rise in sales to $3.06bn. Alibaba is preparing to sell shares on the stock market for the first time and those kind of results are likely to excite potential investors.

     
  15.  
    Via Twitter Hugh Pym Chief economics correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: "Youth unemployment down to lowest since 2009"

     
  16.  
    Via Twitter Hugh Pym Chief economics correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: "First time earnings inc bonuses has been above inflation since early 2010 - earnings not including bonuses at 1.4% still below inflation"

     
  17.  
    UNEMPLOYMENT 09:41: BBC News Channel

    Esther McVey, minister for employment is talking to the news channel, about pay and unemployment. "We are on the right path but there's more work to be done." On an increase in food bank use, she said: "Step by step we are changing things round."

     
  18.  
    UK UNEMPLOYMENT 09:33: Breaking News

    The number of people out of work in the UK fell by 77,000 between December and February to 2.24 million, according to official figures. The unemployment rate falls to 6.9%. At 1.7%, the rate of growth of earnings is now running above the inflation rate of 1.6%.

     
  19.  
    STARBUCKS 09:14:
    File photo dated 13/08/2013 of Starbucks takeaway cups at a Starbucks in central London,

    Starbucks is moving its European head office from Amsterdam to London. It says half of its European cafes are in the UK, so it makes sense. Last year the firm paid corporation tax in the UK for the first time since 2009 following pressure from politicians and campaigners.

     
  20.  
    Via Twitter Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor, Scotland

    tweets: "Metso of Finland rejects Weir Group merger proposal. Weir reassures with commitment to Finnish base, but no certainty it'll revise offer"

     
  21.  
    CHINA GROWTH Via Blog Linda Yueh Chief business correspondent
    Graduates in Beijing

    blogs: "By the gauge of incomes and not the headline GDP figure, the economy is doing better, not worse, than last year. Rural incomes are growing more quickly than urban incomes, which reduces the rural-urban income gap and improves the consumption prospects of half of the Chinese population."

     
  22.  
    TESCO 08:54: Radio 5 live
    Tesco shop and trolleys 16/04/2014

    "They (Tesco) are trying to be all things to all women and men... it's realising that model is not working any more," says Andrew Saunders, Deputy Editor of Management Today on 5 live. The supermarket business is polarising and "the bit in the middle is going away," Andrew says. It needs to get closer to Aldi and Lidl.

     
  23.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:42:

    The benchmark FTSE 100 index in London rose 0.7%, with Tesco up 3.9% as traders said Tesco's fall in profits was not as steep as some had feared. Hargreaves Lansdown was up 2.5% after an upbeat trading update. Germany's Dax index rose 1% and France's Cac 40 rose 1%.

     
  24.  
    Via Twitter Victoria Fritz Business reporter, BBC News

    tweets: "UK figs at 9.30 could show pay increases finally outstripping inflation for the 1st time since the crisis. Exp. 1.8%av pay v 1.7%inf."

     
  25.  
    TESCO Via Email Louse Cooper, analyst from CooperCity

    "Looking at the charges and write downs, international expansion has cost Tesco dear. There is an European asset impairment charge of £734m and a write down of £530m for the Chinese business (now deemed "discontinued")."

     
  26.  
    UK UNEMPLOYMENT 08:29:

    Just a reminder, in a little over an hour's time the Office for National Statistics reports labour market data. It includes the latest unemployment and average earnings data. This is what happened last month.

     
  27.  
    TESCO 08:22: BBC Radio 4

    More from Tesco chief executive, Philip Clarke, on the Today Programme. How will he fix it? "We can reach every postcode," he says. Customers can get their hands on their shopping at stores, through deliveries and by collecting their order. "I am sure Tesco will be a leader again." Tesco shares are up 4.3% in early trading.

     
  28.  
    TESCO 08:18: BBC Radio 4

    Tesco chief executive, Philip Clarke, is on the Today Programme. Why are sales down? "Consumers are feeling the long-run impact of lower income," he says. He will change the supermarket and get customers back to the middle market, challenging cheaper rivals like Aldi and Lidl, he said. "Discounters will never allow you to be cheaper than them but you can get closer to them," he said.

     
  29.  
    TESCO Richard Hunter, from the stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown

    tweets: "Over the last 10 years, the Tesco share price has risen 32p. Every little helps."

     
  30.  
    RECKITT BENCKISER 08:00:
    gaviscon double action

    Amid the excitement about Tesco, Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Gaviscon heartburn medicine, releases first-quarter sales. Revenue excluding currency swings rose 3% to £2.37bn. The company is on track to meet its target for 2014 of increasing sales 4-5%, it said.

     
  31.  
    TESCO Via Twitter Adam Parsons Business Correspondent

    tweets: "Clarke tells me "Aldi and Lidl are formidable...we need to be much, much closer to them, or at the same price. But we have to be different.""

     
  32.  
    HOME BUILDING 07:49:
    File photo dated 05/01/14 of houses

    Homebuilder Persimmon is giving the market an update on its progress. The firm says forward sales for 2014, which includes homes not yet completed, is 38% ahead of last year, with an average selling price of £200,400, which is about 3% higher.

     
  33.  
    Via Twitter Adam Parsons Business Correspondent

    tweets: Tesco's Clarke: "Now have 1,750 Click and Collect locations, including 6 Tube stations"

     
  34.  
    HEADLINES
     
  35.  
    CREDIT SUISSE 07:34:
    Credit Suisse, Zurich

    Swiss banking giant, Credit Suisse, says first quarter profits fell by more than a third. It made $979m in the quarter. Group revenue fell by 8%. The bank blamed less activity in its bond-trading division.

     
  36.  
    TESCO 07:29: Radio 5 live

    Reacting to Tesco's profits on Radio 5 live James Bevan from CCLA Investment Management says: "The tanker is slowly beginning to turn." Asked about Tesco's international business he says: "It's important that they are expanding in clothing in the United States." And he reminds us that "the value of its property book is well in excess of its market value".

     
  37.  
    TESCO 07:18: BBC Radio 4

    BBC Business Editor Kamal Ahmed has been examining Tesco's earnings report for the Today Programme. He said, "supermarkets have been built on the idea they will sell more and more and more" and large ones including Tesco are suffering "the shock of the discounters". He notes that Tesco are now expanding beyond food. "They do have the bank and are about to offer current accounts, and restaurants."

     
  38.  
    TESCO 07:00: Breaking News
    tesco

    Tesco annual profits have fallen by 6% to £3.3bn and like-for-like sales, which strip out the effect on new store openings, have fallen by 1.4%. Tesco also also announced a £734m loss of value in its European business which has been hit by the Eurozone crisis.

     
  39.  
    RAIL 06:53: BBC Radio 4

    Sim Harris, managing editor of Railnews is talking about figures from the Office for Rail Regulation on the Today Programme. Total government support for railways in the UK was £4bn for the 2012-13 financial year. It's a bit of a myth the railways system is fully privatised, said Mr Harris. "A little bit of railways are in the private sector, while most is in the public sector," he says. Network Rail, which owns the track, is publicly owned.

     
  40.  
    TESCO 06:41: BBC Radio 4

    Plenty of advice for Tesco this morning. On the Today Programme Laura Lambie at Investec Wealth & Investment says: "People are shopping with their feet". Customers are buying cheap food at Aldi or treating themselves at Waitrose or Marks & Spencer with less money spent between, she says. Tesco "must try to get their strategy right".

     
  41.  
    TESCO 06:33: BBC Radio 4

    "The real problem for Tesco is it hasn't moved with the times," says Bruno Monteyne, a senior analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein on the Today Programme. "If you really want some great prices you can go elsewhere," he says. The company is facing "what we call a value-quality duopoly," says Mr Monteyne. Either people want cheap food or high-quality food "a bit of everything isn't good enough," says Mr Monteyne.

     
  42.  
    CHINA GROWTH 06:22: Radio 5 live
    China flag

    China's economy expanded by 7.4% in the first quarter of the year, better growth than many were expecting. But it is a slowdown from 7.7% growth in the final quarter of last year. On Radio 5 live, Oliver Barron, head of the Beijing office at the investment bank NSBO says the growth is "a little bit lacklustre". Policy makers are starting to worry "a little bit".

     
  43.  
    CHINA CURRENCY 06:20:
    Mainland China 100 Yuan notes

    The US has told China its currency must be allowed to rise if it, and the global economy, are to see stable growth. Unlike the euro and the dollar, the value of the yuan is not set by the market but is kept within certain limits of other world currencies. The US Treasury's twice-yearly report to policymakers says the yuan is "significantly undervalued".

     
  44.  
    TESCO 06:13: Radio 5 live

    On Wake Up to Money John Coll, an analyst at Kantar Worldpanel, puts Tesco's problems into some perspective. He remind us that they have more than double the market share of their nearest competitor. He says the are trying hard to be "dynamic and innovative".

     
  45.  
    JET FUEL 06:08: BBC World News
    Handout photo dated 15/07/13 issued by British Airways of a British Airways Airbus A380 flying over the cliffs at Dover

    Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways' parent company IAG, has been talking to the BBC about his company's project to buy jet fuel made from waste. The GreenSky fuel plant, in Thurrock, Essex, will supply about 2% of the fuel needed by the company. He denied the project was mere "greenwashing" and said it will have a real environmental impact. "This is turning waste that would have been producing methane into fuel," he said.

     
  46.  
    TESCO 06:03: Radio 5 live

    Expect to hear a lot today about the "Watford model" from Tesco's chief executive, Philip Clarke according to retail analyst Phil Dorrell on Wake Up to Money. Watford has a giant Tesco mega-store. It is a "step-change" but is a costly model, according to Mr Dorrell. He warns that chief executive Philip Clarke has just 16-18 months to improve Tesco's performance.

     
  47.  
    TESCO 06:00: Radio 5 live

    Some stinging words on Wake Up to Money for Tesco's management from Phil Dorrell who runs a consultancy called Retail Remedy. "The senior team is stumbling around looking for a code to get market share to where it should be," says. "Innovating is not going to get them out of the current troubles," he says. They need "a clear strategy of where they are going" and how they will "improve the vast majority of their stores," Philip says.

     
  48.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe, Business Reporter

    Good morning! Get in touch via twitter @BBCBusiness and via email bizpagelive@bbc.co.uk

     
  49.  
    06:00: Ben Morris Business Reporter

    Tesco reports annual results at 07:00 and analysts are talking about a 10% fall in profits. Check-in with the Business live page for the details. And good morning!

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier HARDtalk Watch

    French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier on why he uses unconventional models in shows

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.