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

Research at PESD

Meeting the Unmet Needs of China's Neediest: Junior High Financial Aid in Shilou County

REAP Project

The Problem

China has made great achievements in rural compulsory education over the past decades. In particular during the last five years, the national government has invested many resources to make grades 1 to 9 nearly free for all. However, REAP has discovered through recent work with the Zigen Fund, a local NGO, that many children of poor families in Shilou County—and quite possibly in other very poor counties—are not finishing junior high (Jiang, 2008). It is a common occurrence that the poorest of the poor students drop out of junior high school, well before they have a chance for high school or vocational training. Instead of finishing school, they often begin working in manual labor to earn income for their families.

Statistics indicate that many of these
Shilou County students will not finish
junior high
Boarding costs are prohibitively
expensive for many poor families 

Why are they leaving school early? Among the many possible reasons is the simple fact that attending school is too expensive. Unable to pay for room, board, and a myriad of other costs of attending school, many families have their children enter the unskilled labor market to earn much needed cash. Financial aid is practically none existent for these families.

What are the consequences? While entering the unskilled labor market to earn marginal income allows these students to help their poor families in the short run, foregoing further education prevents them from earning much higher wages in the long run. By sacrificing education at such an early age in order to help their parents, these students will likely remain trapped in poverty as they grow older and become parents themselves.


This study aims to test the proposition that students in rural areas are willing and capable to attend middle school so long as that option is financially feasible. With this goal in mind, The Zigen Fund has organized a scholarship program that targets junior high students in Shilou County. In evaluating the outcome of the scholarship program, REAP hopes to highlight the needs of poor communities that are currently unmet within the compulsory education system in China. Specifically, the objective of the study will be to track the impact (during 7th, 8th and 9th grades) of financial aid on the effort and performance of students in the treatment and control groups. The main outcome variables will be:

  • grades
  • standardized test scores
  • self-esteem
  • dropout rates
  • dropout rates of siblings
  • employment decisions of parents (do they stay at home or work as a migrant; etc.)
  • high school enrollment rates


Step 1: Identify the poorest of the poor

Shilou County, Shaanxi Province

Shilou County is among the poorest counties in Shanxi Province and one of the poorest places in all of China. At the end of 2008, rural per capita net income was 1024 yuan (US$150), a mere quarter of the national level. 71,000 people in the county are living below China’s official poverty line, accounting for 65 percent of the total population. Meanwhile the average tuition and fees for high school in Shilou are around 4000 yuan per year.

In June 2009, enumerators from the REAP team and our project partners at the Zigen Fund visited all rural primary schools in Shilou county. The purpose of this trip was to identify the absolute poorest students in the county. The enumerators interviewed two people in each school to collect the information on the economic status of students that had finished primary school. One was the homeroom teacher and the other was a class teacher or school principal. Using data collected from these individuals, REAP was able to select the poorest students in each class.

Step 2: Conducting the Baseline Survey

Students undertake baseline testing

In September 2009, four enumerators from the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy and Northwest University in China were selected and trained in Xian City for three days. These enumerators visited the 10 junoir high schools in Shilou county and conducted the baseline survey for this experiment. The total number of seventh grade (chu yi) students participating in the experiment was 1507. The blocks of the baseline survey consist of:

  • Student Math Test: A 30 minute math test was given to all 7th grade students.
  • Basic Information Form: A basic information form collected certain pertinent information on the characteristics of the student, including: the schooling and employment status of family members, household assets, individual schooling history, the goals after graduating from junior high school, and self esteem. This form was given to all seventh grade students.
  • Teacher Forms: Teacher forms were given to each seventh grade homeroom teacher, math teacher, Chinese teacher and English teacher. These forms aim to collect information on the characteristics of the teachers and certain general information about their classes.
  • School form: One form was given to each school principal. This form was designed to collect information on school facilities, composition of school teachers and students, and fee waiver programs for students.
  • Education Bureau Form: This form was given to officials in the Education Bureau of Shilou County. The form aimed to solicit information on the composition, enrollment and requirements of junior high schools throughout the county.

Step 3: Establishing treatment and control groups

The 300 students that we designated as the poorest of the poor were randomly divided into two groups of 150 students. The methodology of randomization ensures that there is no significant difference in junior high entrance examination math scores between the treatment group and control group.

Treatment group: 150 poor students were randomly selected to compose the treatment group. These students were given financial aid equivalent to 1000 RMB for the 2009-10 academic year. This aid will be given again for each remaining junior high year, i.e. 2010-11 and 2011-12, so long as the child remains enrolled in school. The Zigen Fund is tasked with dispersing the financial aid over four payments per academic year.

Control Group 1: The 150 students in control group 1 were also selected from the poorest group of students. They will not participate in any aspect of the intervention other than the baseline and final testing. They will serve as a basis of comparison for those students that received financial aid.

Will there be differences in performance outcomes between students receiving and not receiving financial aid? 


Follow-up survey tests of each student in the intervention and control groups will be administered at the conclusion of each academic year. These surveys will mimic the baseline tests and collect data on student grades, standardized test scores, self-esteem, school attendance, and dropout rates. Following the final year of middle school (2011-12), data will also be collected from all students in the intervention and control groups on high school entrance examination scores and high school enrollment rates. These data will be used to measure the impact of the scholarships on scholastic performance and junior high and high school enrollment.


This project is classified as ongoing.


IET Foundation

Works Cited

Jiang, Z.. 2008. Reducing the dropout rate in rural Junior high schools and the reform of compulsory education.