Asia Pacific Education Review

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 413–431 | Cite as

The increasingly long road to school in rural China: the impacts of education network consolidation on broadly defined schooling distance in Xinfeng County of rural China

  • Dan ZhaoEmail author
  • Bilal Barakat


In the early 2000s, China’s Ministry of Education embarked on a program of school mapping restructure (SMR) that involved closing small rural schools and opening up larger centralized schools in towns and county seats.The stated aim of the policy was to improve educational resources and raise the human capital of rural students. Any progress that may have been achieved along these dimensions comes at a price, namely that many children lost the opportunity to learn in their own village schools. This study aims to understand the impact of SMR on the distance rural children are from schooling, in terms of physical, temporal and social measures. A particular focus rests on differential impact by child and family characteristics including socioeconomic status. The data are drawn from a combination of questionnaires, interviews and document analysis, collected in a rural mountainous area, specifically Xinfeng County in Guangdong Province located in the south of China. The authors analyze these data using geographical information systems, regression and classification tree analysis to estimate increased distance and travel time for students affected by SMR, in the context of an analysis of boarding versus commuting decisions and the choice of transportation mode by economic status. This study finds that, the physical distance increased by an average of about 8.3 miles through SMR, but through the increased tendency to board, the effect on average weekly travel distance was neutral; the average travel time increased by around 75 min for those students affected by SMR; even for children more likely to be boarding, the average increase in weekly travel time was estimated at over 2 h, specifically 130 min; social distance increased also; as students were moved from a tightly-knit community school to a somewhat more anonymous institution, this deterioration affected students who were previously “privileged” in this particular respect, and they are not at a disadvantage relative to their peers at their new school. In addition, the study uncovers nuanced effects of SMR on school travel behavior and calls into question that some behavioral assumptions implicit in the planning process. Policy implications of these findings are discussed, with specific reference to China’s current initiative of “balanced development” in the education sector.


China School mapping restructure School travel Transportation Distance 



This paper is one of the research results of the project “Construction of sharing model of educational resources through GIS econometrics analysis: background of balanced development of regional compulsory education in Northwest China,” funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project Number: 71203180), and one of another project “SMR in western rural China: Issues of small rural schools: empirical study by GIS application,” funded by Chinese Ministry of Education (Project Number: 12YJC880157). We are very grateful to International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and OEAD (Österreichischer Austauschdienst) for their support for our research cooperation on Chinese educational development, especially the topic of education network consolidation in rural China. The authors wish to express their thanks to Professor Butz Bill, in POP program, IIASA, for his suggestions and comments on a draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Education Research Institute, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Humanities and Social DevelopmentNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingChina
  2. 2.Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of SciencesWittgenstein Centre for DemographyViennaAustria

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