2011 Student-Faculty Fellows: Drew University
Mentor: Bai Di
Students: Emilyn Aguilar, Megan Cofresi, Jessica Cooney, Melaina Fraboni
Not One Less:
A Case Study of Mandatory Education for Rural and Minority Girls in China
Our group research objective was to investigate the impact of China’s fast growing economy and the globalization of China’s economy and culture on the lives of the children of the poor-migrant workers and peasants-through examination of the compulsory education system (1-9). We spent 28 days in country hosted by an NGO, ZiGen, which facilitated our research in their outreach centers, classrooms, and offices in Beijing and nearby Huairou County. In Beijing, we interacted with migrant workers and in Huairou County we worked with a group of Muslim teachers who teach in elementary school in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. We then travelled to Chengdu to visit four middle schools at township and county levels, and finally Chongqing, where mudslides and flooding in the rural areas we were scheduled to visit prevented us from completing our investigations. We are now working as a group to develop a presentation of our findings at Drew University and at the forthcoming ASIANetwork conference, and also a research paper for publication in The Drew Review, a journal highlighting the research of Drew University students.
The focus of my project is on foreign language education, and was facilitated by visiting a range of schools in different sites in China to study underrepresented Chinese groups, especially migrant workers, ethnic minorities, and those living in the countryside. It is clear that China and the Chinese are deeply committed to language learning and that mastering the English language is increasingly valued as a measure of success. I gathered most insight from informal conversations with students and their educators. It is clear that China is making an effort to equalize education.
My research focus is to determine whether or not the immensely competitive education system in China affects the relations of young girl students forced to compete against one another in the classroom. I observed that many girls seemed not to let this competition undermine their friendships. They remain close to friends. Wanting to do their best does not seem to affect the “sisterhood” they share with others. This occurs because students tend to prepare themselves for national examinations which measure them against students across the province and the country. The examinations test each individual’s own abilities on a province or nationwide scale and does not pit them against their best friend in school. The examinations push each individual to work harder to better her own life.
My research centers on women from ethnic minorities in China and their interest in furthering their education. My initial assumption was that, due primarily to familial expectations, their interest in formal education would be limited by a desire to prepare themselves to be dutiful wives and work within the household. However, my research in and near Beijing, Chengdu and Chongqing suggests that the majority of young minority women are interested in continuing their education, which implies that they seek something more than simply staying at home and being a dutiful housewife.
My objective in studying education in China is to focus upon the relationship students have with their teachers. One of my first observations involved a teenager seeking help from her teacher to properly read a paragraph in English for another class. The teacher volunteered to record the paragraph as read by him and provide it to the student to enable him to hear it again and again for practice. Students that I interviewed in Beijing really liked their teachers, but rarely saw them outside of class. If they did, it was in the offices of their teachers to discuss school related things. We visited one school for rural students who are deaf in Sichuan. In this setting, one group of teachers live with their students in the dorm and help them with everyday tasks as well as instruction in classrooms during the day. In a middle school/high school setting in Sichuan students, I discovered that although middle school students tended to have formal student to teacher relationships, many high school students considered their teachers to be friends and even “Twitter” or instant message them on occasion. They respect their teachers and often turn to them for counsel.