Service-learning through collaborative innovation in Rural China

Project Background

Identifying a Social Problem

In our past teaching and community building experiences working with rural ethnic minority youth in China, we come to a first-hand experience of their experience of two-fold inequalities in education that hampers their developments. The first is the failure of education to take into account of ethnic, cultural, and religious differences. Under a nationally uniform education curriculum that explicitly emphasizes values of the Han culture and urban lifestyles under the guise of “modernization”, children of rural minority ethnicity educated lose touch with their cultural identity. Those with enough motivation and fortune to receive higher education usually choose to work in cities for better opportunities to find their connections with both their local community and distinct culture values severed; and those without often lack the capacity and knowledge for the improvements of their local communities.

The second inequality is the disparity in the allocation of education resources. Even though the current China education reform emphasizes on quality education to cultivate students’ well-roundedness, the rural schools often lack the capacity to implement such reforms to disadvantage rural students vis-à-vis their urban counterparts. Research has found that despite the reform, teachers in most rural schools continue to practice teaching that solely emphasis on rote-memorization and exam-grilling. As a result, rural students often find themselves neither competitive enough to gain admissions to colleges nor employable for most occupations. Worse yet, as numerous rural adults flood large cities as migrant workers, they have to leave their children behind in rural parts due to structural restrictions. Studies have shown that these “left-behind” teenagers often show difficulty in building values and developing low self-esteem. As a result, many students drop out and follow the paths of their parents to become low skilled workers with minimal social insurance and few chances of advancements. .

The detrimental nature of this two-fold negligence is especially felt by ethnic minority student studying at rural schools from 9th grade to 11th grade, when government ends its free mandatory education program, and many, either of their parents or their own will, decide to drop out.

We have seen the ill results of depriving minority students the entitlement to both an equal and a unique education suitable for their own culture; without the means to become capable and responsible citizens, rural ethnic groups become sources socioeconomic problems. We believe that the deep cultural and religious distrust and resentment within China can only be solved by endowing youth with an education focused on visionary leadership, understanding of peaceful developments, and capacity building for actual development of local communities.

Our Proposed Solution

We propose a solution to the above problem through a critical-thinking focused collaborative education that specifically addresses the needs of rural ethnic communities. The realization, understanding and answering of local needs can only become possible through students’ individual and critical examination. Then, collaboration with other like-minded individuals is necessary to realize their solutions through action. Hence, our proposed project intends to a) expand each student’s intellectual and leadership capacities through a challenging curriculum, and b) develop a deep understanding and appreciation of their own culture and communities through service learning projects.