Education and Equity in Rural China: A Critical Introduction for the Rural Education Field

By Roberts, Philip | Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, July 2018 | Go to article overview

Education and Equity in Rural China: A Critical Introduction for the Rural Education Field


Roberts, Philip, Australian and International Journal of Rural Education


Introduction

The aim of this paper is to introduce issues pertinent to rural education in China to the rural education field and encourage the field to engage with scholarship on this topic. While there is a significant international body of work on the educational concerns of rural China in the comparative education literature, there is no such attention in the rural education field (outside of China, of course). A search of the two main international rural education academic journals, the Australian-based 'Australian and International Journal of Rural Education' (including its predecessor Education in Rural Australia), and the USA-based 'Journal of Research in Rural Education' show no articles dealing with rural education in China. A search of the EBSCO database confirms this lack of attention. Yet, the field of rural education ([phrase omitted],Nongcun Jiaoyu) in China is well-established and very active.

There is attention to China, including rural China, in the comparative education field. Given this circumstance, is the lack of attention to China in rural education journals significant? Pertinent to any consideration is the distinction between the various sub-fields of education and their relationships with the parent disciplines. While rural education is somewhat ambiguously placed, it draws primarily from the traditions of sociology and geography, with broader engagements with the non-education fields of rural sociology and rural geography (Roberts & Cuervo, 2015; Roberts & Downes, 2016). Comparative education, however, is more multidisciplinary (Crossley & Watson, 2011), with scholars in schools of education and various social science departments. The majority of research cited in this review draws from the more traditional discipline of sociology. Important here is that sociology, and the sociology of education, includes attention to rural status as a status marker, but does not engage critically with what "rural" means-this task is taken up more commonly in the sub-field of rural sociology.

Consequently, it may be that critical perspectives on what rurality means are not well developed in studies focused on rural education published in the comparative education literature. This appears to be the case in the example of education in rural China. In the work from the comparative education field cited in this review, the rural is not problematized as the contestable space it is considered to be in the rural education field. That is, the multidimensional nature of the rural and its socio-historical construction is not explored. This critical perspective on the concept of rurality would seem to be the value that the international rural education field can bring to the existing study of education in rural China, and potentially what engaging with the study of rural China can bring to the international field of rural education. However, it may well be that there is little engagement with the sociology of rurality in this field as the rural, and difference, is viewed as such a normalised, taken-for-granted position that it does not warrant study. In this assumption lies possibility, both to better understand the rural in China, but also to understand the social and cultural production of rural in other international contexts.

In this paper, we discuss the position of rural students and schools in the broader context of the Chinese educational system. Rural students are disadvantaged, due to both the poorer infrastructure access in rural communities, and, by many estimates, due to rural classification itself. Yet, because there has been little connection between the international study of rural education and the topic in China, little research in China has brought to bear some of the more critical theories of rurality.

Significance of the China case

Examining the rural in China provides an opportunity to investigate the processes through which rurality is marginalised in the relentless move to modernity. …

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