Rural China


About 70% of China's children are from rural areas. Large economic and social inequalities exist between rural and urban areas, but also within rural areas. These inequalities lead to a lack of educational opportunities for rural children. Only a small minority of rural children continue on to senior middle school; the vast majority enter the workforce, in most cases as migrant workers. Although society puts a lot of emphasis on education, also in rural areas, it is seldom asked how effective and relevant this education is. This question is even more important if basic education is all a child receives. How does education benefit them in their lives? Both the government and nongovernmental organizations concerned with education in rural China pay a lot of attention to material circumstances (school buildings, tuition fees, books) but little to quality and relevance of education.


Wei Ji Ma with rural students in Shandong Province, 2004


Traditionally, education in China is exam-centered and attaches great importance to rote memorization. Teaching methods are largely authoritarian and leave little room for student participation. In recent years, China has seen much attention for making education more student-centered and holistic. The government has promoted the concept of "quality education". However, these efforts have largely focused on the cities. In rural areas, it is still relatively rare that teachers have a broader and more student-centered view of education, or if they do, that they are allowed to experiment with methods that support such a philosophy. Moreover, curriculum that takes the point of view of rural students is lacking (it is common to see topics in textbooks that rural Chinese students can absolutely not relate to, such as "a walk in the park", "traffic signs in the city", and "Halloween").


The Rural China Education Foundation (RCEF) exists to help address these issues. We collaborate closely with primary and junior middle school teachers and principals in rural areas. We aim to give them the tools and support they need to develop teaching goals, contents, and methods that make for effective learning (using proven concepts such as student participation and experiential learning) and are suitable for China's rural communities. We pay attention to test preparation, but only as part of a broader vision in which activities that foster children's problem-solving skills, creativity, social participation, and self-esteem are central. Moreover, we try to create links between education and the local community, and hope to convey the notion that learning can take place outside the classroom, and throughout life.


RCEF was founded in 2004 by Diane Geng, Sara Lam, and myself. We started out as a volunteer organization running summer camps in rural villages. By now we have a 100K+ budget, a permanent experimental partner school (Guan Ai Primary School) in Shanxi province, 7 full-time staff affiliated with the school, and an extensive network of alumni and committee volunteers all over the world. Our flagship program is no longer summer volunteer teaching, but an integrated program based at Guan Ai School, with teacher professional development as its main component.




Here are some examples of teaching activities RCEF helps develop and promote:

If you are interested in rural China and have expertise in education, fundraising, international development, nonprofit management, or another relevant field, we invite you to get involved. You can read more about the opportunities on our website.

Donations can be made through this page. Donations are tax-deductible in the United States.

Click here to visit the site of the Rural China Education Foundation