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Postgraduate Thesis: The alienating school: an ethnographic study of school dropout and education quality in poor, rural China
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TitleThe alienating school: an ethnographic study of school dropout and education quality in poor, rural China
 
AuthorsChung, Chi-wa.
鍾志樺.
 
Issue Date2012
 
PublisherThe University of Hong Kong (Pokfulam, Hong Kong)
 
AbstractAlthough China is ahead of schedule in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universalizing nine-year basic education across the country by 2015, access to school remains problematic, as evidenced by a persistent school dropout problem, especially in its hidden forms and in poor and rural areas. Despite a wide range of literature on the phenomenon of school dropout globally, there is a dearth of empirically sound and theoretically motivated research that might offer an understanding of school dropout in terms of education quality. In response to these problems, the main question addressed in this thesis has to do with the role of education quality in children’s dropping out of school. The central thesis proposed is that the problem of school dropout and education quality in poor, rural China stems from the alienating nature of the school system. The methods adopted to answer these questions include a critical ethnography of four cases of dropout, each of which reflects on the assumptions associated with a particular cause of dropout or factor contributing to school access – namely, family poverty, illiterate parents, student attributes and their willingness to study, and the quality and distribution of educational resources. The thesis also offers a critical review of the theoretical approaches frequently used to conceptualize education quality, in relation to the insights gained from the case studies. The study is based on interviews with 112 informants and observations made during three months of fieldwork in China’s Yunnan and Guangdong provinces between 2009 and 2010. The case studies challenge the common assumptions made about school dropout, which are also leading theoretical approaches used to conceptualize education quality. The human capital approach, with its primary focus on the costs and benefits of schooling and its assumption of schooling as an investment, does not deal adequately with non-monetary concerns and the pressures on those living in poverty, and tends to ignore children who have different perceptions of schooling. A simple application of the critical approach tends to focus on structural causation and to overlook the agency of the child. While the systems approach focuses on the implementation and evaluation of education quality, it appears not to say enough about the ends of education. In the distribution of resources, both the utility-based and resource-based approaches tend to understate the importance of the individual’s socio-economic status. These insights also reveal the alienating nature of an educational system in an increasingly market-oriented economy. The alienating school does not respect the students’ individual interests, habits, socio-economic background, aspirations, etc. and is primarily concerned with their success and failure (or dropout) insofar as they affect the evaluation of “quality” or the effectiveness of the bureaucratic system. Students who are marginalized and cannot easily adjust, perhaps due to their disadvantaged socio-economic, cultural and geographic location, tend to be pushed out of school. The study calls for a fundamental change of attitudes in educational development and policy making and a redefinition of school failure as a consequence not so much of the child’s unwillingness to study, but of his inability to perform well. As a school dropout explained his decision to drop out: “It’s not that I didn’t want to study: I just couldn’t study well.”
 
AdvisorsYang, R
 
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy
 
SubjectDropouts - China.
Education, Rural - China.
 
Dept/ProgramEducation
 
DC FieldValue
dc.contributor.advisorYang, R
 
dc.contributor.authorChung, Chi-wa.
 
dc.contributor.author鍾志樺.
 
dc.date.hkucongregation2012
 
dc.date.issued2012
 
dc.description.abstractAlthough China is ahead of schedule in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universalizing nine-year basic education across the country by 2015, access to school remains problematic, as evidenced by a persistent school dropout problem, especially in its hidden forms and in poor and rural areas. Despite a wide range of literature on the phenomenon of school dropout globally, there is a dearth of empirically sound and theoretically motivated research that might offer an understanding of school dropout in terms of education quality. In response to these problems, the main question addressed in this thesis has to do with the role of education quality in children’s dropping out of school. The central thesis proposed is that the problem of school dropout and education quality in poor, rural China stems from the alienating nature of the school system. The methods adopted to answer these questions include a critical ethnography of four cases of dropout, each of which reflects on the assumptions associated with a particular cause of dropout or factor contributing to school access – namely, family poverty, illiterate parents, student attributes and their willingness to study, and the quality and distribution of educational resources. The thesis also offers a critical review of the theoretical approaches frequently used to conceptualize education quality, in relation to the insights gained from the case studies. The study is based on interviews with 112 informants and observations made during three months of fieldwork in China’s Yunnan and Guangdong provinces between 2009 and 2010. The case studies challenge the common assumptions made about school dropout, which are also leading theoretical approaches used to conceptualize education quality. The human capital approach, with its primary focus on the costs and benefits of schooling and its assumption of schooling as an investment, does not deal adequately with non-monetary concerns and the pressures on those living in poverty, and tends to ignore children who have different perceptions of schooling. A simple application of the critical approach tends to focus on structural causation and to overlook the agency of the child. While the systems approach focuses on the implementation and evaluation of education quality, it appears not to say enough about the ends of education. In the distribution of resources, both the utility-based and resource-based approaches tend to understate the importance of the individual’s socio-economic status. These insights also reveal the alienating nature of an educational system in an increasingly market-oriented economy. The alienating school does not respect the students’ individual interests, habits, socio-economic background, aspirations, etc. and is primarily concerned with their success and failure (or dropout) insofar as they affect the evaluation of “quality” or the effectiveness of the bureaucratic system. Students who are marginalized and cannot easily adjust, perhaps due to their disadvantaged socio-economic, cultural and geographic location, tend to be pushed out of school. The study calls for a fundamental change of attitudes in educational development and policy making and a redefinition of school failure as a consequence not so much of the child’s unwillingness to study, but of his inability to perform well. As a school dropout explained his decision to drop out: “It’s not that I didn’t want to study: I just couldn’t study well.”
 
dc.description.naturepublished_or_final_version
 
dc.description.thesisdisciplineEducation
 
dc.description.thesisleveldoctoral
 
dc.description.thesisnameDoctor of Philosophy
 
dc.identifier.hkulb4832994
 
dc.languageeng
 
dc.publisherThe University of Hong Kong (Pokfulam, Hong Kong)
 
dc.relation.ispartofHKU Theses Online (HKUTO)
 
dc.rightsThe author retains all proprietary rights, (such as patent rights) and the right to use in future works.
 
dc.rightsCreative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Hong Kong License
 
dc.source.urihttp://hub.hku.hk/bib/B48329940
 
dc.subject.lcshDropouts - China.
 
dc.subject.lcshEducation, Rural - China.
 
dc.titleThe alienating school: an ethnographic study of school dropout and education quality in poor, rural China
 
dc.typePG_Thesis
 
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<item><contributor.advisor>Yang, R</contributor.advisor>
<contributor.author>Chung, Chi-wa.</contributor.author>
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<date.issued>2012</date.issued>
<description.abstract>&#65279;Although China is ahead of schedule in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universalizing nine-year basic education across the country by 2015, access to school remains problematic, as evidenced by a persistent school dropout problem, especially in its hidden forms and in poor and rural areas. Despite a wide range of literature on the phenomenon of school dropout globally, there is a dearth of empirically sound and theoretically motivated research that might offer an understanding of school dropout in terms of education quality.



In response to these problems, the main question addressed in this thesis has to do with the role of education quality in children&#8217;s dropping out of school. The central thesis proposed is that the problem of school dropout and education quality in poor, rural China stems from the alienating nature of the school system.



The methods adopted to answer these questions include a critical ethnography of four cases of dropout, each of which reflects on the assumptions associated with a particular cause of dropout or factor contributing to school access &#8211; namely, family poverty, illiterate parents, student attributes and their willingness to study, and the quality and distribution of educational resources. The thesis also offers a critical review of the theoretical approaches frequently used to conceptualize education quality, in relation to the insights gained from the case studies. The study is based on interviews with 112 informants and observations made during three months of fieldwork in China&#8217;s Yunnan and Guangdong provinces between 2009 and 2010.



The case studies challenge the common assumptions made about school dropout, which are also leading theoretical approaches used to conceptualize education quality. The human capital approach, with its primary focus on the costs and benefits of schooling and its assumption of schooling as an investment, does not deal adequately with non-monetary concerns and the pressures on those living in poverty, and tends to ignore children who have different perceptions of schooling. A simple application of the critical approach tends to focus on structural causation and to overlook the agency of the child. While the systems approach focuses on the implementation and evaluation of education quality, it appears not to say enough about the ends of education. In the distribution of resources, both the utility-based and resource-based approaches tend to understate the importance of the individual&#8217;s socio-economic status.



These insights also reveal the alienating nature of an educational system in an increasingly market-oriented economy. The alienating school does not respect the students&#8217; individual interests, habits, socio-economic background, aspirations, etc. and is primarily concerned with their success and failure (or dropout) insofar as they affect the evaluation of &#8220;quality&#8221; or the effectiveness of the bureaucratic system. Students who are marginalized and cannot easily adjust, perhaps due to their disadvantaged socio-economic, cultural and geographic location, tend to be pushed out of school. 



The study calls for a fundamental change of attitudes in educational development and policy making and a redefinition of school failure as a consequence not so much of the child&#8217;s unwillingness to study, but of his inability to perform well. As a school dropout explained his decision to drop out:

&#8220;It&#8217;s not that I didn&#8217;t want to study: I just couldn&#8217;t study well.&#8221;</description.abstract>
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<rights>Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Hong Kong License</rights>
<source.uri>http://hub.hku.hk/bib/B48329940</source.uri>
<subject.lcsh>Dropouts - China.</subject.lcsh>
<subject.lcsh>Education, Rural - China.</subject.lcsh>
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