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


Research at PESD


Giving Rural Children in China a Head Start: Providing Families Pre-school Vouchers to Improve the Educational Readiness of Pre-school Age Children in Rural China

REAP Project
Ongoing

“We cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults, nor can we wait until they reach school age—a time when it may be too late to intervene. Learning is a dynamic process and is most effective when it begins at a young age and continues through to adulthood.”

-James Heckman, Nobel laureate in economics

Problem

Although there has been great achievement in the area of rural education in China during the past decade, rural education still faces many challenges and lags far behind education in urban areas. One of the challenges is that rural students begin primary school far behind their urban counterparts. Almost all urban children attend pre-school. The quality of many of them is relatively high. In contrast, there are few preschools in rural areas and those that do exist are generally poor in quality. Without access to affordable preschool care and education, the education literature (internationally) is clear that most rural students, and most especially those that are poor, will not be “ready” to enter primary school. When a child is not ready, s/he will be behind in cognitive skills, language ability, numeracy, psychological and physical health and social behavior. It is well known that if a child enters elementary school un-ready, in most cases they will probably never be able to catch up.

[Are you interested in learning more about the problem of the absence of pre-school care and education (and/or its low quality)? For more information, see Education Challenge: Early Childhood Care and Education.]

Goals

Our overall goal in this project has two parts: a) to increase the access to preschool care and education in rural China in order to raise the school readiness of rural children; and b) to help policy makers and professional educators design policies that will increase access of children (3 to 6 year olds) to Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programs in poor, rural areas. We want to show that if education officials make ECCE more accessible, the level of school readiness of rural children will rise.

To meet this overall goal, we will pursue three specific objectives:

  1. Document the nature of access to preschools in poor rural areas, including:
    • rates of participation;
    • cost of preschool
  2. Test whether or not liquidity (level of wealth/income) is a constraint to sending children (of poor families) to pre-school;
  3. Identify if the nature of access of households to pre-school programs (in terms of the household’s proximity to pre-school facilities) affects whether or not a program that pays for the tuition of pre-school students and provides them with a meals/transportation subsidy is effective.

Approach

In conjunction with our funding and implementation partners (Nokia and Plan International) we decided to do the Pre-school One waiver/One subsidy program in Lushan county in Henan province. Please see the map for the location of the county. When comparing to the rest of China’s counties, the average per capita income of rural residents in Lushan county is 2050 yuan per capita in 2007, a level that makes it in the bottom decile of China’s counties. It is a nationally designated “poor county.”

To generate believable, transparent and powerful evidence that can be used by policy makers to push those programs that work and modify or stop programs that do not, we will use a Randomized Control Trial (RCT) approach in the evaluation. In the RCT, half of the children (in what we call the treatment group) will receive a tuition waiver for the pre-school of their choice (as long as the preschool is within the boundaries of the county); and, if the child attends 80 percent of the time during the semester, the family will receive a 200 yuan per semester subsidy. We call this program the pre-school yimian/yibu (one-waiver/one-subsidy program). In this way, our RCT program mimics the education support program in poor rural elementary schools (liangmian/yibu—two waiver/one subsidy program). The children in the control group get no assistance.

In implementing the RCT, one of our main tasks is to choose the treatment group and control group. The process for choosing the two groups includes:

  • From two comprehensive listings of all children in the county—one in the local township health center in each town and one from the local police station also in each town—we made a list of all 4 year old children in the county. According to our definition, 4 year olds include all children that turned four between July 1. 2003 and June 30.2004.
  • With the help of: a) the department of education in the county; b) administrators in each pre-school in the county; and c) village leaders in the village in which the 4 year olds live, we divided the list of 4 year olds into: ONE, those that were in pre-school during the first semester of 2008 ; and TWO, those that were not in pre-school;
  • Our sample contains no children that went to pre-school during the 2007-08 academic year;
  • If a child was with their parent and living outside of the county, they also were not included.

Map of Lushan County in Henan Province in China 

 

From this list of 4 year old children, we randomly chose 150 4 year olds and gave them a comprehensive set of readiness tests (see below for complete description of the baseline survey). After the survey, we had 146 complete sets of readiness surveys. We then divided the group into 2 parts: 73 went into the treatment group; 73 went into the control group. Please see the graphs in figure XX (to be updated). They show that the means of the children in the treatment and control groups are identical across a wide number of variables. 

Table 1. Characteristics of households in control and treatment towns in Lushan County

Variables

Age

edu

asset

treatment=0

43.1

1.5

3.4

treatment=1

43.4

1.6

3.2

 

P-value

 

0.8685 0.6573 0.2567

 

Table 2. Characteristics of children in control and treatment towns in Lushan County

Variables

Height of
children

Weight of
children

Chest
circumference

Head
circumference

Gender of
children

treatment=0

104

15.6

54.1

50.5

0.5

treatment=1

104.2

15.2

54.1

50.5

0.54

 

P-value

 

0.839

0.3974

1

0.8323

0.6244

 

Table 3. Test scores of children in control and treatment towns in Lushan County

Variables

Recognition
score

Language
score

Communication
score

Self-care
score

Manual
score

Sport
score

treatment=0

12.4

6.1

8.9

3.1

8.2

13.7

treatment=1

14.1

7.2

10.3

3.4

8.9

14.6

 

P-value

 

0.2316

0.2483

0.1537

0.4626

0.5028

0.259


Implementation

To implement the program, during the baseline we collected “contact information" for all of the parents/guardians of the 4 year olds. 70 percent of the time (that is in the case of 105 households out of 146), the family had a telephone. In the case of the rest of the families, we were able to contact the household through a phone in a neighbor’s home or through the village leader.

This is the process by which we informed those in the treatment group that they were included in the “Pre-school One Waiver/One Subsidy” Program:

  • A REAP member called the family and read them a notice that said: “The Chinese Academy of Sciences has selected your family to be in the “Preschool One Waiver/One Subsidy” program. If you want to participate, you need to:
    1. Sign up your child for pre-school before September 10, 2008 (school officially begins on September 1, 2008);
    2. You then call us with the name and contact information of the Principal (or any administrator) of the Pre-school;
    3. We will then contact the Pre-school and find out what is the level of the tuition;
    4. Within one week—we will wire the school a sum equal to the semester tuition (up to a level of 300 yuan);
    5. If your child attends more than 80 percent of the time, during the final week of the semester, we will send you a 200 yuan subsidy to cover any added costs of food and/or transportation. No documentation is needed for these added costs;
    6. We will be monitoring attendance in the class. 
  • After the phone call, we sent the household a formal letter of notification. In the letter (and during the phone call), the family was given a phone number (a hot line) that could be used for any matter related to the “Pre-school One Waiver/One Subsidy” program.

Evaluation

 

Baseline

 

REAP is documenting the baseline at several levels, including township, village, pre-school, teacher, household and of the children. We conducted a baseline survey to collect the socio-economic and other information about preschool education in the sample townships and sample villages.

 

For each child selected (73 of children in the treatment group and 73 of children in the control group), we have done the following things in the baseline survey:

  • Test her/his physical readiness, emotional maturity, social competence, cognitive readiness and communicative competence.  

  • Survey for the characteristics of her/his family and household. 

  • Survey of the school manager and of the teachers to document the quality of preschool services in the sample townships.

The photos below show some of our testing of the 4 year olds. If you want to see more, please click here and you can see a slide show [LINK]. 

Copies of the surveys in English and Chinese are available in the Survey and Data section of the website.

Post-treatment


REAP will follow up after 12 months and  periodically in the years thereafter (as funding allows) to examine the status of students in treatment and control groups, in the cognitive, physical, psychological and socioeconomic dimensions recorded at baseline.

Results

On-going project

Funding

Funding for the Tuition Waivers and Subsidies was provided by an anonymous donor.

The 4 year old interviews were done as part of the Nokia/Plan Internatinoal H2H program. See the H2H program website link for more information [LINK].

The REAP team in China (from the Chinese Academy of Sciences) provided a donation of their time and office space (and postage/phone calls) to support the survey work and administration.