This summer, I joined the Rural Education Action Program (REAP), which is a Stanford University research program cooperated with Chinese Academic of Sciences and some other institutions. The whole program is huge, and it covers all kinds of aspects, such as health conditions, economic background, lack of parents’ care, education, computer access and other factors that may affect students’ performances.
Recent tests show that in China, fifth year rural students (around age 11) got the same grades as third year urban students (around age nine). Although they are very young, this new Chinese generation has already demonstrated the impact of regional differences which may lead to the future stratification of society. If they fall behind at a very young age, the kids in rural places will never be able to compete with urban kids. The reasons may be complicated. The program aims to find out how policy change can help the poor, rural students. Some hypotheses are that students’ performance will improve if they have better health, have more access to the computer and Internet or get eyeglasses, as the myopia rate is very high in China. REAP gathered a lot of people to do huge experiments to find out what the rural kids need and determine whether the hypotheses above made sense. The survey we did will be submitted as policy recommendations to the government in order to help rural kids in China.
The team I was on focused on Computer Assisted Living (CAL). We visited classrooms and talked to students in order to determine the influence the program has had on the children. We randomly sent out computers with certain software to some schools so that they have to hold a certain amount of computer assisted learning classes.
We went to two remote provinces in northwest China--Shaanxi and Qinghai. The survey took us nearly the whole month of June to complete. We spent two hours in each classroom we visited. What impressed me most during this time was the huge difference between rural and urban life. Some classrooms are not equipped with light. Using natural light makes it difficult for kids to read, especially during winter or on rainy days. Additionally, some kids are very shy, because they seldom communicate with strangers. When we were in the classroom—there were usually two of us visiting a class of 20-60 students—some only replied with nodding and shaking their heads when we talked to them, while others replied in a very low voice. But I could see in the students' eyes that most of them were very curious about us, and they were excited when they did the questionnaires. In China, people use the same characters but different dialects. In these two provinces, some dialects are very difficult to understand and some kids don't know how to speak in Mandarin, so when communicating with those kids we sometimes needed to find someone who knew both Mandarin and local dialects.
The experience in June was significant to me, as I have lived in China my whole life, but living in Beijing, a huge modern city, I have never felt the way I feel now. I believe most students in Colby have never experienced the poverty that these rural kids face.