One in three Chinese children faces an education apocalypse


Away from China’s bustling cities, a crisis is mounting in rural areas that will impact the entire country. By the time China’s children reach working age, ⅓ of them will be intellectually stunted. In rural China, 50% of 8th graders score below 90 on IQ tests. According to the 2010 census, only 24% of China’s labor force attended high school. With China’s booming economy placing new demands on its workers, economist Scott Rozelle asks: “ What do you do with 400 million people in your labor force who can’t learn? “That can’t switch jobs?” “This problem of healthy cognitive development, especially among China’s rural population, which is about 60-70% of its babies, is the biggest problem that China faces that no one knows about.” To tackle this problem, Rozelle established collaborations with researchers and institutional partners to form: The group first tried to boost test scores by improving children’s health. They conducted surveys in rural areas and found that 27% of children were anemic, which is an indicator of malnutrition, 37% had intestinal worms and 20% had myopia. The researchers realized that any one of these factors would obstruct education. If you’re sick how can you learn? REAP provided students with vitamins, de-worming treatment, and corrective glasses– Sure enough, their math scores improved far more than their peers who didn’t receive interventions. These findings helped convince China’s central government to establish a school lunch program in 2011 that now benefits more than 20 million rural students daily. There’s a giant body of evidence showing that it’s the first 1000 days that sets the stage for later educational achievement and adult health. So, Rozelle’s team started focusing on children in the earliest stages of life. In 2013, they tested 1800 babies from 348 villages in impoverished areas of the Qinling Mountain Region. 49% were anemic and 29% scored below normal on a standard intelligence assessment for babies called the Bayley Test. But this time, when the team intervened with vitamins, test scores didn’t improve. They’re entering a time when they should be starting to learn other things but with very low levels of cognition. That’s when Rozelle turned to parenting as the possible culprit. In 2014, REAP started asking caregivers how
they parented. Just a ⅓ reported playing with or singing to their child, 11% had told a story to their child the previous day, and less than 5% had read to their child. REAP then studied 513 child/caregiver pairs. Half received in-home parental training, which involved weekly coaching for 6 months. The study found that the training brought Bayley scores up to normal but only when the mother was present. With many mothers leaving rural homes to find jobs in cities, 30% to 40% of rural children are raised by grandma. When a grandmother received the in-home training however, the child’s Bayley score barely budged. The trainers had trouble reaching the children and their mothers in these remote regions and the process was time-consuming and expensive. The in-home visits did little to relieve the isolation of kids, whose mothers weren’t in the picture. What’s more, a questionnaire filled out by the mothers who did remain with their children suggests 40% of them showed signs of depression. To overcome these obstacles REAP has embarked on its most ambitious experiment yet. The team has targeted 100 villages in The Qinling Mountain Region and set up early childhood education centers in half of them. There’s free play, group activities, reading, and one-one parent training. They are following 1200 baby/caregiver pairs to see how a stimulating environment and effective parenting shape the intelligence of young children. “ We went in one generation from everyone raising who they thought were to be subsistence farmers and now we need to raise college kids. And that’s true in Latin America, it’s true in other middle-income countries. Unless you get zero to three right there’s going to be huge huge problems.” The first assessment of the childhood education centers will be completed in early 2018. If their interventions are successful, Rozelle and his team hope to convince Chinese authorities to scale up and establish early education centers nationwide.

31 thoughts on “One in three Chinese children faces an education apocalypse”

  1. >go to china
    > go to the most impoverished region
    > wow and bewilder the local women with my seemingly amazing intellect
    > bring them to America
    > keep them ignorant to the fact I'm a autistic man child and live a amazing life

  2. Feels weird. The China government did not give a slightest help? I guess that mean they don't care or they did give you (REAP) permissions (== no interfere, in this context) to do that or both. Questions are, how are the adult in that area thinks about this? More importantly, why should you care if they (adults and government) don't?

  3. the “apocalypse” is the fake/negative education system which produces copy machines and repeaters. Confuciusm is the most efficient invention of china in history and now to ensure slaves can NOT be self-aware to generate their own ideas/thoughts. All
    slaves need to do is obey superiors' orders.

  4. Great video and congratulations for everyone involved in the project! The best way to give someone dignity is to offer them education, and that's exactly what you guys are doing.

  5. 随着经济的发展和政府的投入增加,这些都在被慢慢解决。这些投入不是几个外国志愿者可以做大的。

  6. That's why I say UBI is just an intermediate solution. "UB nutrient" and "UB health care" is more sustainable, though it's even harder to measure and implement. And when I say Universal, I mean universal. Maybe exaggerated, but when you don't have open internet, your knowledge is not universal, so you don't know the "universal standards".

  7. Is it ironic that "apocalypse" is from a Greek word meaning "uncover, disclose, reveal"?  Like, that's the purpose of education so 'educational apocalypse' should be a good thing.  Except if Armageddon follows after lunch…  
    Armageddon is a big battle named after the plains of Har Megiddo; people often get the two confused.  In scholastic terms, apocalypse is show-and-tell, armageddon is a gang fight in the hall.

  8. Seems that not enough credit is given to brain plasticity later in life, and too much emphasis on IQ, and a nebulous definition of intelligence…
    intelligence is more complex than that.

  9. Since China is very undemocratic, why would they want to educate the poorest people in their country? Wouldn't that give the poor more power against their government?
    You cited that 40-odd percent of these baby's mothers were full time workers. That means more productivity and shows that those with bad education are a benefit to China's industry. If those mothers could or wanted to take time off their jobs to raise their children then the factories would suffer.

  10. That's beautiful someone cares and is doing this work. This is the stuff that really matters and should be the main focus not all this other wacko shit like veganism and green energy.

  11. I mean I knew that the average intelligence of people has been steadily increasing for decades but this work really makes clear how many things contribute to this and just how "intellectually stunted" your average peasant over most of human history must have appeared by modern standards.

  12. What can you say about a Government who needs an international Intervention of Volunteers etc.. to realize that Children need food and no Intestal Worms to be abe to learn. Theyre Dumb as fuck, thats the problem the World is mostly run be educated Idiots and People with some sort of Empathy lacking psycholocigal Disorder.

  13. I really hope they do a follow-up to this documentary in a couple years I'm really curious to see what the scores are and to see how differs.

  14. These problems are not just Chinese problems. I'm sure that it affects other areas of the third world, specifically Africa. We need to address these issues if we really want to use education as a tool against poverty and for development.

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