Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Stanford University

Research at PESD

Boarding for 10 Million

REAP Project


One of the major challenges facing policy makers who are in charge of education today is how to provide quality, safe and nurturing boarding school services to the more than 10 million elementary schools students who will be living at school away from home. For more details on the general problem of providing boarding for poor rural students in China, visit the Educational Challenges section of the website.

Although there are many problems with boarding schools, one particular concern is that dorm managers (or those in charge of the dorms) are poorly trained (if trained at all) and their management approaches are frequently ad hoc. If so, it is possible that poor management has led to a situation that has created an extremely unsatisfactory living environment in many boarding schools. The rooms are often dirty. The facilities are in disrepair. Basic hygiene practices are not taught, enforced or used. The needs of students—physical, academic, social and psychological are often overlooked.


We are seeking to better understand these issues by conducting a pilot study to evaluate the impact of a boarding school management intervention on the physical health, psychological health and educational achievement of students. Our study will be done in ruralShaanxi, one of the poorest provinces inNorthwest China. Results of this study will answer several significant questions about both the experiences of primary boarding school students and the management practices required to ensure the children’s well-being. This knowledge has important implications for rural education policy inChinaand across the globe. We ultimately want to improve the quality of the boarding school experience for 10 million children inChina(and more beyondChina’s borders).

To meet these goals, from 2007 to 2009, REAP scholars led by Yaojiang Shi and Renfu Luo and supported by REAP co-directors, Jennifer Adams and Scott Rozelle and the rest of the REAP team, will be conducing a pilot randomized management intervention in rural Shaanxi in order to better understand the issues facing those who have to live in boarding schools and assess the effect of a boarding school management protocol (or training program) on the well-being of boarding school students.


The Distribution of the 10 Boarding Schools 
(to be updated)



One of the innovative features of this study is that REAP is using a Randomized Control Trial (RCT) approach to help in the evaluation of the impact of a boarding school management protocol. The first step in this research strategy includes randomly choosing 10 boarding schools that have boarding facilities that are fairly comparable. Information on the welfare of students in these 10 schools was gathered during a canvas survey of 144 schools that was carried out in 2007 (see canvas survey at Educational Challenges, Boarding Schools). From the 10 sample schools, we then chose 6 schools to be the treatment schools. The dorm managers (or teachers who manage the dorms) in the 6 schools will receive intensive training in dorm management. In contrast, the teachers (dorm managers) in the other 4 schools will not receive any training. These are the control schools. The figure below shows the location of the 6 treatment and 4 control boarding schools.



The second step of the research project involved doing a baseline survey of the students, teachers and dorm managers in the 10 sample schools (in both the 6 treatment schools and 4 control schools). This set of surveys was designed to produce a picture of students and student life in all treatment and control schools before the teacher training in the treatment schools. In total, we executed surveys that covered the following areas:

For a copy of the survey questionnaires, please visit the Survey and Data section of the website: English VersionChinese Version

After finishing the baseline, the third step of the project will be the training of the managers in the treatment school. Using funds from a grant to the Northwest Socio-economic Development Research Center from Ford Foundation, Beijing, managers of the six treatment schools will receive rigorous training and instructions according to a detailed boarding school management protocol. Table below shows the main content of the training program. For those interested in the details of the training protocol, we welcome you to download the Training Manual


The last step of the project will occur in June 2009. The REAP team will revisit all of the schools and redo the baseline survey. This will be called our evaluation survey. We will compare the changes in the Psychological Health, Cognitive skills, Time Allocation, Daily Behavior and Nutrition/Health of students again in the treatment schools and the control schools. In this way, we can assess the effectiveness of improving the lives and educational performance of boarding school students in China’s schools.


While we do not yet know the impact of the intervention, our experience working in rural China in general and rural schools in particular, have provided us with a set of prior expectations.

“Results of this study will answer several significant questions about both the experiences of primary boarding school students and the management practices required to ensure children’s well-being.” Professor Scott Rozelle of Stanford University, a member of REAP explains, “First, we will answer several questions regarding the impact of residential education on primary school students in the ruralChinacontext. For example, are boarding schools more effective if they are run by a professional manager or a schools teacher? What kinds of child care practices reduce the risk of psychological or health problems for boarding school students? What characteristics of boarding schools’ residential environments matter for educational achievement? Next, within China specifically, results will provide clear guidance regarding training boarding school managers in particular child care and educational practices, and consequently can be ‘scaled up’ to improve education for many rural Chinese students at primary boarding schools.”

Regarding the proposals that will be put forward after completing the study, Jennifer Adams, Assistant Professor in School of Education at Stanford University adds, “The answers to these questions are not only significant in China, but also in other developing nations that are struggling to provide education for disadvantaged, hard-to-reach children. The results of our work can inform rural education policy, and improve the educational experiences of rural children by illustrating what works and what does not in primary boarding schools. Ultimately, we hope to enhance the boarding experience of 10 million elementary students in China and more around the world. ”