Qing Xia and Dr. Karen E Hyer, Education Leadership and Foundations
About the topic. In all aspects, China is integrating itself into the world. Almost any significant change to take place in China would capture the attention of the world. The education of rural women is drawing attention from society because there have been more girls to drop out of school than boys. They need to be educated and well informed so that they can recognize and protect their natural and human rights. They should be able to realize their human functional capabilities such as “control over one’s environment1”. My intent in this project has been to help them find a possible solution for improvement. Under Dr. Karen Hyer’s direction, this project contains three different stages: literature review, data collecting, and data analysis.
Literature review. After spending a great amount of time in school libraries ofBrigham Young University and Georgetown University and after two weeks in the Library of Congress, I have found much information on women’s education. I found that researchers have been trying to identify women’s roles and capabilities in the areas of vocational training, compulsory education, foreign trade, social reforms, and the market economy. Some applaud for Chinese women’s increasing independence, while some take a passive view on the changing roles of rural women. My project has been to study ways of improving local education. Some journals report that training projects have been done in rural China. There are some successful examples, but most of them lack continuity and systematic ways of running programs over time. Not enough literature exists on the case study at a local level; most of it concentrates on the national level. There is a need to select a targeted region for a pilot project, which could lead to practical development projects in women’s education.
Data collecting. After consulting with professionals, especially Dr. Hyer, I designed interview and survey questions. I tailored three types of questionnaires for targeting school children, parents, and authority/faculty in order to survey the mindsets and attitudes of different people towards education of women and minorities. Due to a very low possibility of obtaining a visa to return to the U.S. from China, I was not able to go to China myself as originally planned. Instead, our colleague Brett Tuley, who has good language skills in Chinese, took the questionnaires to some of the rural areas in Sichuan with the support of the Women Federation in China. Since he returned with the data, I have been working on categorizing and analyzing the information. The original idea of setting courses for those local women turned out to be not very practical at this time, because women are burdened with a large amount of household and farming responsibilities while many of their husbands try to make money outside of their villages. Based on the information from this project, training courses should be implemented in ways better suited for the women. From the analyzed data, I have found out some reasons for a higher dropout rate among school girls. Rural people in China have various difficulties with sending girls to school. First, by tradition, they do not even count girls as members of their families because they plan on girls marrying out of the families. Therefore, parents do not think it would be worth it to spend money on girls’ education. Second, because boys are seen as the one to continue the family names, they are preferred over girls in the same family for education. Third, most people still think that girls do not need much education because they will never use it. Also, people are not confident in girls’ abilities. Finally, they do not have money for school supplies, though the compulsory education is free. It is not possible for parents to support their children’s education through college without external help.
Data evaluation. First, I carefully transcribed tape-recorded interviews. As a native Chinese speaker, it was convenient because I was able to understand the participants. Because of my Chinese heritage, I can sense the people’s emotions and feelings while listening to their words. Second, I extracted information from survey questions into Microsoft Excel sheets so that I could obtain objective ideas about those people’s needs, thoughts, and current situations. My training from statistics classes provided me with means of looking for data distributions and some critical figures of the study target. Third, after studying the raw data, I checked the reality against the literature reviewed. In addition, I also have received advice on analyzing and extracting information from Dr. Karen Hyer and her Ph. D students.
Current situation. Rural women in China need more help and support than what is available to them. Most of them do not know there are places and people to which they can go for help, besides the government. The government does not have enough financial or human resources to provide public transportation and other facilities to make sure that every child can go to school free from these obstacles. Only some students with excellent academic performances can be selected to receive financial aid, which is not much. Schools lack decent buildings and other basic facilities, not to mention computers and other advanced educational instruments.
Disappointingly, many educational officials would recite some prevail propagandas praising education improvement, without knowing much about the real situation. Much of the educational budget has been wasted on the bureaucracy, when most teachers do not get sufficient paychecks. In fact, some teachers even use their own money to pay for poor kids’ school expense so that they can go to school. However, the Women Federation (WF) at all levels has been trying to help the rural women make differences in their lives. One change is that the school girls and even the boys of Sichuan feel an obligation to help their own people. This is a hope for the community.
In the ivory tower. Fromreviewing the literature, I have realized that even some prominent researchers have difficulty understanding some small but critical details related to their work, to some extent. For example, the Chinese word “wen hua” means culture in formal Chinese language, but if one says “I don’t have wen hua”, it means the person does not have education. This has been wrongly understood by some professionals in the West. There is immediate need for the cooperation of Chinese and western professionals. I contacted some non-government organizations (NGOs) in Washington D.C, but there are almost no NGOs working on girls and women’s education in China at a specialized level.
Looking forward. This project is an excellent start of my pursuit in helping the Chinese and perhaps other people. In the case of rural women’s education, two jobs should be carried out simultaneously: training seminars for adults and formal education for girls at schooling ages. The rural Chinese population needs education to find its gateways to prosperity. After learning more of rural women in China and having hands-on experience, I am looking forward to more extensive research work with Dr. Hyer.
- Nussbaum Martha Craven, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach, pp78-80, 2000