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					                                                   European Journal of Developing Country Studies, Vol.2 2006
                                                               ISSN(paper)2668-3385 ISSN(online)2668-3687
                                                                                          www.BellPress.org

 Private Schools for Low-Income Families in Rural Gansu, China

                                                   Qiang Liu, PhD
Assistant Professor, Institute of International and Comparative Education, Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal
                                            University, CHINA, 100875
                                                  qliu@bnu.edu.cn

                                                James Tooley, PhD
   Professor and Director, E.G. West Centre, School of Education, Communications, and Language Sciences,
                                       Newcastle University, UK, NE1 7RU
                                              james.tooley@ncl.ac.uk
Abstract
Research found 586 private schools in villages in Gansu province, enrolling 59,958 pupils; 309 public schools
were located for comparison. Private schools had significantly higher female enrolment than public schools,
while pupil-teacher ratios were equivalent. Teacher salaries were significantly lower in private than public
schools, although fees charged in both were equivalent. Only a small minority of private schools received local
government subsidy. Private schools were reportedly established because public schools were too far away.
There was no significant difference regarding teaching activity in public or private schools. Implications of these
findings for national and international development policy are outlined (100 words).

Key words: Development Policy, Public-private comparisons, Poverty.
     1. Background and context
It is widely accepted that a private education sector, charging low fees, has emerged in many developing
countries. For instance, the Oxfam Education Report suggests that ‘… the notion that private schools are
servicing the needs of a small minority of wealthy parents is misplaced … a lower cost private sector has
emerged to meet the demands of poor households’ (Watkins, 2000, pp 229-230). The phenomenon is widely
reported in southern Asia: for example, the Probe Team (1999) researching rural villages in four north Indian
states reports that ‘even among poor families and disadvantaged communities, one finds parents who make great
sacrifices to send some or all of their children to private schools, so disillusioned are they with government
schools’ (p. 103). For the poor in Calcutta (Kolkata) there has been a ‘mushrooming of privately managed
unregulated … primary schools’ (Nambissan. 2003, p. 52). Reporting on evidence from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh
and Rajasthan, De et al (2002) note that in urban and rural areas, a large number of primary schools charging
low fees have emerged (p. 148). Alderman et al, (2001, 2003) report on similar findings from Pakistan.
Venkatanarayana, (2004), notes the ‘growing demand’ for low fee private schools in rural Andhra Pradesh, India
(p. 40).

Is the situation similar in China? There is a growing interest in the rapid development of private education in
general in China. From being outlawed under Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1950s, it emerged after the policy of
‘Reform and Opening Up’ in 1978. Progress has accelerated to create a situation described by commentators as
‘mushrooming’, ‘flourishing’, ‘blooming’, and ‘thriving’, (Lu and Chen, 2001; Ma, 1998; Mok, 1996). There
have been numerous press reports on the growth of private schooling in China, (see for example, Bi, 2000; Chen,
2000, 2002; China Daily, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002a, 2002b; Dong, 1999, Dong and Huang, 2002, Gao, 2001,
Guangming Daily, 2002, Guo, 1999, Hao, 2002, Huang, 2002, Li, 2001a, 2001b, Lu and Chen, 2001, Lv, 2000a,
2000b, Xia and Xu, 2001, Xiong, 2001). Academic studies have pointed to the development and socio-economic
impact of private education in general (see for example, Chen and Li, 2001; Feng, 2001; He, 2001; Wang, 1997;
Wu, 1999, 2000; Xi, 1996; LaRocque and Jacobsen, 2000); the growth and impact of private education in
particular provinces, (e.g., Lin, 2001; Liu, 1998; Liu and Hu, 2000; Ma, 2002; Qu, 2001; Wen and Jin, 2001),
comparisons between this growth in different provinces (Wang, 1999) and discussion of desirable regulatory
frameworks (Hou, 2001; Wu, 2000; Zhang, 2002).

However, there is only limited information on the presence of a low-cost private education sector. Liu (2002)
points to the ‘booming’ of 100 private schools in villages in central Shaanxi Plain, accounting for one seventh
total primary school enrolment. Zhou (2001) notes the growth of private education in rural areas in North China.
Lin (1997) suggests that private educational initiatives are important in rural areas. It is also reported that low fee




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                                                    European Journal of Developing Country Studies, Vol.2 2006
                                                                ISSN(paper)2668-3385 ISSN(online)2668-3687
                                                                                           www.BellPress.org

private schools have been opened for children of itinerant workers, most of whom were surplus labourers from
the countryside seeking jobs in big cities (China Daily, 2000).

The research reported here, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, aimed to supplement this limited and
mainly anecdotal evidence, by conducting a detailed survey of the nature and extent of private provision – if any
– in the villages of rural Gansu, one of the poorest parts of China, and to effect some comparisons between this
provision and that offered in state or public education. This research was part of a large international study,
conducted between April 2003 and December 2005 also in sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria) and
India, reported elsewhere.

Gansu, one of China’s five northwest provinces, was chosen for the study because it is one of China’s least
developed provinces. In 2001, Gansu’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was 4,165 Yuan (US$518.03),
ranking 30th among China’s 31 provinces and autonomous regions. The average rural per capita income was only
1,500 Yuan ($186.57), 63% of the national average, ranking 28th. About 50% of Gansu’s rural population is
living below the poverty line of 1,000 Yuan ($124.38) per capita per year, compared to 3% nationwide (Asia
Development Bank, 2003, pp. 2-3). Gansu reported about 1.69 million people living under the absolute poverty
line of 637 Yuan ($79.23) per person per year. Gansu has 14 municipalities and prefectures that further
administer 87 counties and districts and 1,660 townships and sub districts, including 7 autonomous counties and
40 ethnic minority townships. Gansu’s total land area is 454,430 km. In the 2000 national census, the population
was 25.6 million people, 76% living in rural areas. In Gansu, 36.91% of the population have completed primary
school (Gansu Statistics Bureau, 2001, National Bureau of Statistics, 2006).

Before moving on, it is worth noting that there are three names for private education in current usage in China:
‘Shehui Liliang Banxue’ is used in official documents; literally translated it means schools run by ‘social forces’.
‘Si Li’, translated literally as ‘privately run’, is rarely used, perhaps because the first character ‘si’ has derogatory
senses besides the meaning of ‘private’, such as “selfish” or “illegal”. Finally, ‘Min Ban’, translated literally as
‘people-run’, is the most popular name, widely used by providers, researchers, and journalists. Tsang (2000)
suggests that ‘min ban’ are distinct from ‘private’ schools; the latter refers to schools sponsored and managed by
private individuals or groups, funded through student tuition and other private sources, while the former are
sponsored and managed by communities or collective organizations, and funded by the community and tuition
fees. Others deem that private schools run by individuals are one type of people-run schools (Meng, 2001;
Wang, 2001c). Lai (1994) suggests that the term ‘min ban’ is the preferred usage in China domestically, but that
this should be translated as ‘private school’ for international usage (Lai, 1994). This is the usage followed in this
paper.
     2. Method
The research was conducted from September to December 2004. A preliminary visit was made by the authors to
check whether private schools could in fact be found in villages in Gansu. A week-long visit located five such
schools in the mountains of Zhang County, Ding Xi prefecture. Following this, the team recruited the Gansu
Yitong Marketing Research Company, a specialized research organization that utilizes a network of researchers
across Gansu, to assist. This research used 48 research supervisors and 310 researchers, distributed across all 14
prefectures. All researchers and supervisors attended a two-day training session. The aim was to locate all
private primary and secondary schools in rural Gansu. Pre-primary only schools were excluded, although this did
not preclude finding schools that catered for nursery and primary or secondary sections. For purposes of
comparison, researchers were asked to locate a public school ‘nearby’ to each located private school, defined as
being within a maximum of one day’s travel for the researchers, who were travelling mainly on foot.
Researchers were allocated to areas which they knew reasonably well and were permitted to obtain lists of
private schools from the local education bureau, although they were warned that such lists may not be complete,
and in addition they should inquire of local residents, e.g., in markets or on the street, the possibility of other
schools existing, unacknowledged by local authorities. Researchers were trained in the use of an interview
schedule for the school principal. They were also trained in the use of an observation schedule, which catalogued
the facilities within the school – either in Class 4 (or, if there was no Class 4, the nearest other class to this) or
available in the school as a whole (Only one aspect of this is reported below). Once the researchers identified the
location of a private school, they were required to visit unannounced, and conduct the interview, which took
approximately 15 minutes. After that, they asked to visit the school, to observe school inputs.

During the implementation of the research, all researchers were strictly monitored. They were required to sign a
Quality Guarantee Contract, which amongst other things confirmed that any researcher found guilty of fraud


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would be dismissed without payment. All questionnaires from the school had to be stamped with the official
school stamp and contact telephone number. Researcher were required to take a photograph of each school to
prove that they had visited it. All schools were subsequently telephoned by the supervisors to check that the
researchers had in fact conducted the survey and observation. Spot telephone and field checks were also
conducted by one of the authors together with a smaller team to 30% of the schools located, in all 14 regions, to
ensure that questionnaires had been correctly filled in, and also to check for any other private schools that may
have been missed.

3.        Results
3.1       Schools
In total, the researchers found 688 private primary and secondary schools. Of these, the vast majority, 589
(85.6%) were located in villages, as opposed to cities or county towns, of interest to this research project.
However, three of these were found to be not for villagers themselves, but were located in villages apparently to
take advantage of cheap land, and functioned either as boarding schools or by bussing day pupils from the capital
city. These three schools charged fees ranging from RMB 1,500 ($186.57) to 20,000 ($2487.56) per term – far
above the fee range for the schools serving village people. We eliminated these schools from our analysis. That
is, we analysed data from 586 private schools, located in the villages and serving village populations. We define
these as ‘private schools for the poor’. This figure is a lower bound, as we cannot be sure we found all of the
schools, which were not on the provincial list of schools: Officially in Gansu province there were only 82 private
primary and secondary schools (senior high, five junior high and 26 primary), all of which are based in the cities
and larger towns, not in villages (Gansu Statistics Bureau, 2004, p. 738). The researchers also identified 309
government schools that were in villages “nearby” (as defined above) to the private schools; these form the basis
of comparisons here. (The number is smaller than the total private schools because in some areas, the researchers
found no “nearby” public schools). It was observed by the research team that the public schools were normally in
the less remote and larger villages. These were only a very small fraction of the total in Gansu – there are
15,635 primary schools alone (Gansu Statistics Bureau, 2004).

Table I Pupil enrolment in all village private schools and sample public schools, Gansu
                                         Total       Number of Schools     Mean Number of
                                        Students         Reporting            Students
          total students pre-
                                          3157              586                  5.39
Private primary
Schools total students primary           54807              586                 93.53
          total students junior
                                           403              586                   .69
          secondary
          total students senior
                                          1591              586                  2.72
          secondary
          total students                 59958              586                102.32
          total students pre-
                                          3764              309                 12.18
 Public primary
Schools total students primary           85648              309                277.18
          total students junior
                                         25150              309                 81.39
          secondary
          total students senior
                                           446              309                  1.44
          secondary
          total students                115008              309                372.19
          total students pre-
                                          6921              895                  7.73
          primary
          total students primary        140455              895                156.93
          total students junior
 Total                                   25553              895                 28.55
          secondary
          total students senior
                                          2037              895                  2.28
          secondary
          total students                174966              895                195.48
Source: Census of schools




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Table II Pupil enrolment by gender
                                             Number of schools      Mean percentage
                                                                                               Std. Deviation
                                                reporting              of girls
           proportion girls pre-primary            176                  48.26                   17.456
           proportion girls primary                578                  46.76                   11.149
Private proportion girls junior
                                                4                         37.44                 13.214
Schools secondary
           proportion girls senior
                                                7                         33.25                 15.732
           secondary
           proportion girls pre-primary        104                        47.45                 11.175
           proportion girls primary            286                        44.54                 9.156
 Public proportion girls junior
                                               50                         42.38                  9.342
Schools secondary
           proportion girls senior
                                                1                         19.06                    .
           secondary
           proportion girls pre-primary        278                        47.96                 15.433
           proportion girls primary            864                        46.02                 10.578
           proportion girls junior
 Total                                         54                         42.02                  9.606
           secondary
           proportion girls senior
                                                8                         31.48                 15.405
           secondary
Source: Census of schools
Table III Pupil-Teacher Ratio by School Management Type
                          Count        Maximum   Minimum               Mean       Median       Mode
  Private Schools           586         71.67      3.33                25.03      23.59        18.00
   Public Schools           309         263.00     3.86                25.08      23.65        24.00
Source: Census of schools

3.2       Pupil enrolment
Researchers asked school principals for the number of children enrolled, by class, checking this data against
registration documents. In the 586 private schools there were 59,958 children enrolled, a mean of 102 children
per school (Table I). The largest school had 540 students, while the smallest had five. The majority of children
(54,807) enrolled were at the primary level. Officially, there are only 6,788 students studying in private primary
schools (which did not include the schools we found, as they were not on the official Provincial list), and
3,227,592 pupils in government primary schools in Gansu (Gansu Statistics Bureau, 2004, p. 738). That is, we
suggest a total enrolment of 3,289,187 in primary schools, of which about 1.87% of children (61,595) are in
private primary schools. For purposes of comparison, in the 309 public schools researched, total enrolment was
reported to be 115,008, of which 85,648 were in primary sections.
3.3       Gender of Pupils
Enrolment was broken down by gender (Table II). At all levels apart from junior secondary (although there are
only a small number of reporting schools here), we find that the private schools have a higher percentage of
female enrolment than public schools. At primary level, the mean percentage of girls in a private school is 46.76%
compared with 44.54% in a public school. Using the t-test for independent samples shows a significant
difference between private and public schools for the mean proportion of girls at primary school (t=3.116,
df=676.675, p<0.05).
3.4       Teachers, Pupil-Teacher Ratio and Teacher Salaries
There were 2,480 teachers reported in private schools (and 5,029 in the 309 public schools). The mean number
of teachers in the private schools was four, (compared to 16 in the public schools). In both private and public
schools, the minimum number of teachers was one, while the maximum number was 38 (private) and 102
(public). Regarding pupil-teacher ratios, these were similar in public and private schools: 25.03 in private,
compared to 25.08 in public schools (Table III).

Teacher salaries, however, were very different in private and public schools (Table IV). We asked school
managers for the minimum monthly, maximum monthly and average monthly salaries paid to the teachers. In the
private schools, the mean reported values were RMB 173.95 (minimum), RMB 750.81 (maximum) and RMB
479.37 (average). In the public schools, however, the mean reported values were RMB 302.73, (minimum),



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RMB 1217.26 (maximum) and RMB (789.48) (average). The mean average teacher salary was thus nearly twice
as high in the public as the private schools.
Table IV Average Minimum and Maximum Teacher Monthly Salary by Management Type
                                            Count Maximum   Minimum        Mean
                                                   1500.00    14.00        173.95
                     Minimum                  586
                                                  ($186.57)  ($1.74)      ($21.64)
 Private                                           2700.00    15.00        750.81
                     Maximum                  586
 Schools                                          ($335.82)  ($1.87)      ($93.38)
                                                   6362.20    15.00        479.37
                      Average                 586
                                                  ($791.32)  ($1.87)      ($59.62)
                                                   1100.00    15.00        302.73
                     Minimum                  309
  Public                                          ($136.82)  ($1.87)      ($37.65)
 Schools                                           1900.00   200.00       1217.26
                     Maximum                  309
                                                  ($236.32) ($24.88)     ($151.40)
                                                   1300.00   180.00        789.48
                      Average                 309
                                                  ($161.69) ($22.39)      ($98.19)
Source: Census of schools

3.5      Age of schools
The school managers were asked when their school was established. 571 of the private schools (and 306 of the
public schools) provided this information, which has been tabulated in intervals of five years. Although
differences between school types are significantly different overall, we can see that the vast majority of both
types of schools are greater than 20 years old – 81.7% of private and 91.2% public – that is, dating back almost
to the policy of ‘Reform and Opening Up’ in 1978. Around 8% of the private schools are aged 16-20 years,
while about 4% are aged 11-15 years. Only a small proportion (7%) was established between 1995 and 2004
(Table V).
3.6      School Fees and other charges
We asked school managers for the fees charged in their schools. Six private schools (1.0%) and three public
schools (1.0%) reported that they did not charge any fees. The vast majority of the schools charged fees, by the
semester (i.e., twice annually). The results for primary and pre-primary sections are shown in Table VI. The
mean fees in private schools ranged from RMB 68.79 ($8.56) in Grade 1 to RMB 78.66 ($9.78) in Grade 6. In
public schools the mean fees were slightly higher at all grades except 5 and 6. However, using the t-test for
independent samples, we see that there were no significant differences between private and public schools in the
mean fees charged, except at pre-primary level (pre-primary: t=-2.485, df=269, p<0.05; grade 1: t=-0.965,
df=861, p>0.05; grade 2: t=-0.920, df=837, p>0.05; grade 3: t=-0.938, df=697, p>0.05; grade 4: t=-0.572,
df=586, p>0.05; grade 5: t=0.250, df=525, p>0.05; grade 6: t=1.347, df=123, p>0.05).
3.7      Type of Management of Private Schools
The majority of private schools were reportedly managed by a group of villagers (68.8%), while the remainder
were predominantly managed by individual proprietors (30.5%). Only tiny numbers (one school in each case)
were managed by a religious organization or charitable trust, while none were managed by commercial
companies (Table VII). In terms of the definitions of private schools in China given above by Tsang (2000), we
could say that the majority of schools were min ban, while a significant minority were si li.

We asked if schools received any subsidy from government – in all cases this was reported as from local
government. Only a small minority reported that they did – 70 schools (11.9%, Table VIII). The rest reported no
subsidy from government. The mean amount of government subsidy was reported to be RMB 14,935 ($1857.59)
per annum. Considering government subsidies per teacher and per pupil, taking into account all private schools
(i.e., including this with zero subsidy) we find that the mean subsidy per teacher was RMB 408.82 ($50.85) per
annum, while per pupil it was RMB 18.64 ($2.32) per annum. If we consider only those schools receiving
government subsidy, then this rises to a mean of RMB 3,422 ($425.62) per teacher per annum and RMB 156.06
($19.41) per pupil per annum.

Comparing schools run by villagers and proprietors only, there is a significant difference between these in
whether they receive government subsidy or not – with significantly more schools run by the villagers receiving
subsidy (χ2 = 5.219, df=1, Significant, p<0.05): 13.9% were run by villagers reported some local government
subsidy, compared to 7.3% of those run by proprietors.



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Table V Age of Schools by Management Type

                2000 – 2004      1995 –       1990 – 1994                        1984 and Older
Management                                                     1985 – 1989
                   (0 – 5       1999 (6 –       (11 – 15                         (Greater than 20        Total
  Type                                                       (16 – 20 Years)
                  Years)        10 Years)        Years)                               Year)
   Private           23            17             21               44                    470             575
   Schools          4.0%          3.0%           3.7%            7.7%                   81.7%       100.0%

    Public            4             9             5                9                     279             306
   Schools          1.3%          2.9%           1.6%            2.9%                   91.2%       100.0%
                     27            26             26               53                    749             881
    Total
                    3.0%          3.0%           3.0%            6.0%                   85.0%       100.0%
       2
Note: χ = 15.226, df=4, Significant, p<0.05
Source: Census of schools

Table VI Semester fees in private and public schools
                                      Number of Schools
                                                                  Mean Term Fee            Std. Deviation
                                           Reporting
 Private Pre - Primary                        172                 72.10 ($8.97)                 32.476
Schools Grade 1                               577                 68.79 ($8.58)                 19.117
          Grade 2                             553                 68.91 ($8.57)                 18.873
          Grade 3                             416                 69.43 ($8.64)                 18.961
          Grade 4                             305                 70.65 ($8.79)                 16.576
          Grade 5                             253                 71.94 ($8.95)                 15.521
          Grade 6                              44                 78.66 ($9.78)                 25.914
  Public Pre - Primary                         99                 83.15 ($10.34)                39.619
Schools Grade 1                               286                 70.07 ($8.72)                 16.482
          Grade 2                             286                 70.12 ($8.72)                 15.904
          Grade 3                             283                 70.71 ($8.79)                 15.750
          Grade 4                             283                 71.43 ($8.88)                 16.244
          Grade 5                             274                 71.59 ($8.90)                 16.496
          Grade 6                              81                 73.27 ($9.11)                 18.438
   Total Pre - Primary                        279                 76.13 ($9.47)                 18.438
          Grade 1                             863                 69.21 ($8.61)                 36.373
          Grade 2                             839                 69.32 ($8.62)                 35.927
          Grade 3                             699                 69.95 ($8.70)                 35.950
          Grade 4                             588                 71.03 ($8.83)                 35.582
          Grade 5                             527                 17.76 ($2.21)                 18.286
          Grade 6                             125                 75.17 ($9.35)                 17.915
Source: Census of Schools
Table VII Type of Management in Private Schools
                                       Frequency                        Valid Percent
          Villagers                    403                              68.8%
          Proprietor                   179                              30.5%
          Religious group              1                                0.2%
          Trust or charity             1                                0.2%
          Other                        2                                0.3%
          Total                        586                              100.0%
Source: Census of Schools

3.11 Reasons for Establishing Private Schools
Private school managers were asked an open question to give their reasons for setting up their school. 582
schools responded to this question. The answers were coded under ten headings(Table IX). The most reported



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reason was for overcoming problems of children traveling great distances to public schools, thereby eliminating
parental worries, reported by 438 schools (75.3% of total private schools reporting). It was clear from follow-up
interviews with school managers that the public schools were too far from their village – sometimes requiring
children to walk for five or six hours to reach – so this was the major reason for setting up a private school in the
village itself. Other frequently reported reasons came under the headings ‘Eliminating illiteracy’ (28.2%) and
making up the shortcomings of public education (24.7%). Only a very small number of managers reported that
they had set up the school in order to make a profit or surplus income (0.5%), to solve problems of village
unemployment (presumably by employing teachers), (0.3%), or because the government had requested villagers
to open a private school (0.3%).
3.12 Activity of the teacher
During the survey, after interviewing the school managers, the researchers also asked to tour the schools in
person. In particular, he or she was asked to visit Class 4, or the nearest class, during a time when teaching
should have been taking place (e.g. if there was an assembly or break period, the researchers waited until after
these had finished). Observations were allowed in all 895 of the schools taking part in the Census. How much
teaching activity was going on when the researcher called, without prior notice, in classrooms when there was
timetabled teaching supposed to be going on? ‘Teaching’ was defined as when the teacher was supervising the
class in some activities, including the teachers supervising pupils reading aloud or doing their own work, or
pupils themselves leading the class at the blackboard, under supervision of the teacher. If the class teacher was
absent, two situations could arise. Sometimes, no teacher would be present with the class, in which case, the
teacher would be marked as ‘absent’. However, if a substitute teacher had been put to supervise the class, in any
of the above ways, then this was noted by the researcher as ‘Minding the Class’, and included in the table below
as ‘teaching’. Non-teaching activities are therefore defined as where the teacher is not present in the classroom
when he or she should have been – e.g. being in the staffroom, sleeping, eating, talking, or engaged in some
other non – teaching activity around the school.

Analyzing the survey results, we found that 92.2% of teachers in private schools were teaching, compared to
89.3% of government teachers. However, these differences were not statistically significant (Table X).
Table VIII Subsidies from local government by private school management type
                   Subsidies from local government     Total
                   No               Yes
Villagers          347              56                 403
                   86.1%            13.9%              100.0%
Proprietor         166              13                 179
                   92.7%            7.3%               100.0%
Other              3                1                  4
                   75.0%            25.0%              100.0%
Total              516              70                 586
                   88.1%            11.9%              100.0%
Source: Census of schools

Table IX Reasons for Establishing Private Schools in Villages of Gansu Province
                                                                    Number of               % of private schools
  Reasons of Establishing the PUA School
                                                                    the Schools             reporting
  Overcoming problem of children traveling great distance to public
                                                                         438                       75.3%
  school
  Eliminating illiteracy                                                 164                       28.2%
  Making up shortcomings of public education                             144                       24.7%
  A devotion to the common good                                           90                       15.5%
  Increasing educational opportunities                                    18                        3.1%
  Making up shortcomings of family education                              14                        2.4%
  Making profit/surplus income                                            3                        0.5%
  Solving problems of village unemployment                                2                         0.3%
  After “Open – Up and Reform” Policy, the government asked every
                                                                          2                         0.3%
  village to set up a school.
  Raising standards of English                                            1                         0.2%
Source: Census of schools


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Table X Activity of Teachers by Management Type
                                                              Activity of the Teachers
                                                                                                      Total
                                                       Teaching    Non - Teaching      Absent
      Private school     Count                           540               40            6             586
                         % within public or
                                                        92.2%             6.8%            1.0%       100.0%
                         private schools
      Public School      Count                            276               31              2          311
                         % within public or
                                                        89.3%             10.0%            .6%       100.0%
                         private schools
      Total              Count                            818               71              8          895
                         % within public or
                                                        91.2%             7.9%             .9%       100.0%
                         private schools
Note: χ2 = 3.121, df = 2. Not Significant, p>0.05
Source: Survey of Inputs

4. Conclusion and discussion
The phenomenon of private schools serving the poor, charging low fees, has been widely documented
internationally. However, apart from press reports, there does not seem to be much data available on the
existence of the sector in China, particularly in rural areas. This research, part of a large international study,
examined the nature and extent of private schools in villages in Gansu province, one of the poorest regions of
China. A team of researchers found 586 private schools in the villages of Gansu, serving village people,
(‘private schools for the poor’) enrolling a total of 59,958 pupils.

What are the implications of these findings? First, we believe that this research has indicated the existence of a
private education sector that appears to have previously been unnoticed, and which could usefully be brought to
the attention of the national and international communities. Second, it would seem that the existence of this
sector has implications for development policy, both for the Chinese government and for international
development agencies. Regarding the latter, it is notable that the large aid efforts for education in Gansu
province by the European Union (totalling Euros 15 million (about $18 million) over a five-year period and the
British Department for International Development totalling £12.5 million, ($20.83 million) over an 6 year period
are both aimed solely at improving public schools. The EU project includes teacher training, improving facilities
and providing scholarships to ‘disadvantaged but excellent students’, (EU-China Gansu Basic Education Project,
no date, p.2), with the aim of reducing educational inequity (p. 4). The DfID project also aims to ‘reduce the
inequalities which exist in the education system’ (Gansu Basic Education Project, no date, p. 1), through the
introduction of school development plans (SDPs), teacher training and scholarships for the ‘poorest and most
disadvantaged pupils’, especially girls (p. 5). However, it was notable in our research that we came across
public schools under these programmes that were situated in the less remote and larger villages. The private
schools that were in the most remote and inaccessible villages did not receive any of the funding – and it was
suggested by our respondents that the public schools, including those receiving development aid, were too
inaccessible to pupils in these remote villages to be of any benefit to them. One implication of the research
findings is that, if reaching the poorest is a development goal, then using at least some funds to raise the quality
of, and improve access to, private schools may be more effective than targeting only public schools.

Similarly, the Chinese government is particularly concerned with improving basic education in Western China,
including Gansu. It earmarked funds of 10 billion RMB ($1.2 billion) in 2004 for rural compulsory education,
and will invest 10 billion RMB ($1.2 billion) over four years to build 7,730 boarding schools for 2.03 million
students in poverty-stricken areas, including Gansu. Further funds will go to improving public school
infrastructure and facilities in these areas (China Education and Research Network, 2005). The emphasis on
boarding facilities suggests that the government recognises that existing public schools are too remote to serve
some of the poorest communities, and so moving children to the larger villages where there is a public school is
one way of improving access for the most disadvantaged. However, such a policy will clearly have other
implications for rural and family life – particularly if young people contribute to the economy in terms of helping
around the home and farm after school.




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                                                  European Journal of Developing Country Studies, Vol.2 2006
                                                              ISSN(paper)2668-3385 ISSN(online)2668-3687
                                                                                         www.BellPress.org

An alternative policy is suggested by this research. That is, to recognise that private schools currently exist to
serve the most remote villages, and that development funding could be channelled to help these improve,
through grants or loans, to facilitate access to the poorest children through targeted scholarships, and/or to assist
other villagers to open schools in areas not served by public schools. It was found that a limited amount of local
government subsidy was already directed towards such private schools; it is suggested that this assistance might
be extended. In this way, the poorest might be assisted without having to engage in a mass movement of children
away from their home villages, with all its possible disadvantages.

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