STEM Education Can Reduce povertyEducation has long been proven as a tool for poverty reduction. In fact, UNESCO estimates that if all people in low-income countries had basic reading skills, an estimated 171 million people could escape poverty. Education allows for upward socioeconomic mobility for those in poverty by providing access to more skilled, higher-paying jobs. In particular, STEM education can reduce poverty.

STEM Education

STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Because of the shifting focus toward STEM in the job market, millions of STEM jobs are opening up in developing countries. However, many go unfilled because of gaps in the STEM education pipeline. These jobs could be the key to helping the poor to improve their standards of living, but those in poverty often lack the education necessary for these jobs, such as in rural China.

Education Disparities in China

Education in China is becoming more accessible and comprehensive. Since the 1980s, the adult literacy rate has risen from 65% to 96% and the rate of high school graduates seeking higher education has risen from 20% to 60%. However, these gains are not equal across the country. Rural students in China have often been left behind in the education reform movement. More than 70% of urban students attend college while less than 5% of rural students do, partly because urban residents make about three times more than rural residents. Another reason has to do with parental support; a researcher at the University of Oslo found that over 95% of urban parents wanted their children to attend college, while under 60% of rural parents wanted the same.

Rural students also receive lower-quality education than urban students. Despite China’s Compulsory Education Law in 1986, rural schools often lack the ability to put the proposed reforms in place because they do not have the educational resources. Teachers are scarcer in village schools as most qualified professionals flock to the urban areas where there is a higher standard of living and higher pay. As a result, fewer rural students get into top colleges and therefore lose out on opportunities for advancement.

Generational Poverty and the Effect of STEM

Generational poverty refers to families that have spent two or more generations in poverty. This is especially common in rural areas where parents have a harder time generating the necessary income for their children’s education, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty when the children grow up. In rural China, about 5.1 million people live in the throes of generational poverty. This is due to a number of factors but a major one is lack of educational opportunities in the rural provinces.

STEM education can reduce poverty by helping children in rural provinces break the cycle of generational poverty. Since 2016, 248 high schools in poor areas have tuned into live lessons hosted by one of the top high schools in China, giving poor students the ability to receive the same education as their upper-middle-class peers. As a result, 88 of the participating rural students were admitted into China’s top two universities — universities that are estimated to have a rural population of only 1%.

Organizations for STEM Education

Some groups are working to bring STEM education to even younger students. In 2019, Lenovo, a technology company started in China, donated 652 sets of scientific toolboxes to primary schools in Huangzhong County, Qinghai Province, an area that is over 90% agrarian. The toolboxes contained materials that helped children perform science experiments and solved the problem of the lack of equipment in rural schools. Each toolbox, spread over 122 schools, helped 12 children at once and was reusable. In total, it enabled about 43,903 primary and secondary school students to become more scientifically literate and will prepare them better for future education and employment.

The Green & Shine Foundation is also helping teachers better instruct their students. It trains rural teachers in teaching necessary STEM skills to help lay the foundation for more STEM education later in their students’ lives. It also helps to develop curriculums and hold exchange programs with STEM schools so that rural teachers can observe and discuss new teaching methods. These efforts have helped 1,411,292 rural teachers and students across China.

STEM for Ending Generational Poverty

China has made strides in alleviating poverty, reducing its poverty rate every year since implementing major reforms. The Chinese government needs to prioritize investment in STEM education in rural provinces to close the education gap between rural and urban students and help bring an end to generational poverty. STEM education can reduce poverty globally.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

reducing Rural Poverty In ChinaChina has made significant strides in poverty reduction in the previous three decades due to a combination of economic reforms and national poverty reduction programs. Experiencing a significant growth in the nation’s GDP that resulted in the rise from a low-income country to an upper-middle-income country, the percentage of individuals living below the poverty line has decreased from 88% in 1981 to 1.7% in 2018. However, in 2016, 43% of the rural population lived below the national poverty line, many of them smallholder farmers. Recognizing the importance of agricultural development opportunities among rural populations, the Chinese government approved IPRAD-SN, (Innovative Poverty Reduction Programme: Specialised Agribusiness Development) in Sichuan and Ningxia in 2018, as part of its initiative to eliminate rural poverty. The action plan delineates development strategies for increasing agricultural capacity, thus reducing rural poverty in China.

Constraints for Rural Chinese Farmers

Living in the Sichuan or Ningxia province provides pristine mountain views and unparalleled landscapes but it also presents constraints. Approximately 6.5 million individuals in Sichuan and 840,000 in Ningxia live below the national poverty line. Infrastructure problems concerning irrigation, drainage, cattle sheds and roads, inhibit farmers from increasing their production capacity and quality. For instance, in the Ningxia village of Naihe, livestock buildings or cattle sheds offer limited space for farmers to raise their animals. This prohibits any increase in livestock quantity, which in turn constrains profit growth and renders farmers unable to generate sufficient funds to build improved infrastructure. Lack of access to market, value chain and financial resources also threaten ambitions for economic expansion in these rural, remote regions. Each of these variables contributes to the difficulties in reducing rural poverty in China.

Innovative Poverty Reduction Programme: (IPRAD-SN)

China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs joined with the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development in order to formulate the six-year IPRAD-SN program that strives to directly improve the lives of 198,847 individuals in Sichuan and Ningxia. The program prioritizes local empowerment with the following two focuses that assist in reducing rural poverty in China: infrastructure and sustainability and value chain inclusion.

  • Infrastructure and Sustainability: Adequate supply systems are an essential component of spurring economic growth in these communities. Providing electricity, potable water, irrigation for crops and durable roads are important aspects of the plan’s infrastructure component. In addition, the program incorporates land restoration and climate-conscious agricultural techniques in order to ensure sustainability.
  • Value Chain Inclusion: By increasing market capacity, asset availability and access to financial services, the plan strives to incorporate smallholder farmers, cooperatives and agro-enterprises into “pro-poor” value chains. Strategies include enhancing the technological and organizational skills of cooperatives, funding business plans that target poverty reduction and helping local financial institutions cater their services to the needs of the community.

Tracking Success

IPRAD-SN aspires to lift 50% of the provinces’ impoverished out of poverty upon its completion. In order to ascertain progress, the plan delineates key factors to account for during monitoring intervals. These factors include gross per capita income levels, beneficiary totals, women-led cooperatives, breadth and quality of road networks, production levels, sustainable farming practitioners and individuals with access to post-production amenities.

In the Ningxia province, the implementation of this plan has already modernized irrigation systems and improved water access for livestock. Additionally, silos have been constructed in order to ensure weather-resistant protection for crops and animal feed and livestock provisions such as cattle sheds have been refurbished. In improving the care of livestock, farmers are better equipped to breed and sell their animals. Each of these developments places farmers in a position to improve agricultural quality and quantity and thus increase profit generation.

Agriculture is a vital component of China’s economy, accounting for 9% of the nation’s GDP and 33% of employment. Providing tools at the local level enables farmers to cater the plan’s strategies to their needs and create effective projects. By investing in these individuals, IPRAD-SN is making advancements in reducing rural poverty in China.

– Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in ChinaSince 1978, China experienced the largest economic growth in history. This astounding progress has transformed China from a struggling nation into the second largest economy in the world. Nevertheless, because of widespread wealth disparity and massive malnutrition in China, the country is still considered a developing nation and continues to combat the effects of extreme poverty.

Due in part to its economic growth, China became the first country to accomplish the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal of reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger in half. Unfortunately, there are still 150 million people in China that are considered undernourished. Most of those that suffer hunger are women, children and elderly people from rural regions.

While China has almost eliminated urban poverty, with only 1.6 percent of the urban population living under the minimum income line set by the government, much of the rural population has yet to see the benefits of growth.

Reforms have produced an average per capita income of about $17,000. However, when compared with the median per capita figure of $6,000, it is apparent that new wealth has not been distributed evenly.

Today, nearly half of China’s 1.3 billion people live in rural areas. More than 70 million of rural residents live on less than a dollar a day.

Although most rural children receive enough calories to survive, the problem of malnutrition in China is a question of nutrients. Up to 51 percent of children between the ages of eight and twelve suffer from anemia in provinces such as Qinhai. Several experts estimate that about half of all infants in rural areas are anemic as well.

Malnutrition in China saddles children with a severe disadvantage — stunted brain growth. Lu Mai, the secretary-general of a government-run charity, argues that rural children are far behind urban children in academics because of their eating habits.

China’s government has already taken steps to combat these health problems. Schools in 600 rural villages provide daily nutritional supplements to students during lunch. Despite these admirable governmental efforts, Mr. Lu affirms that much more needs to be done.

Mr. Lu, along with a research group out of Stanford University, advocates the distribution of a powdery nutritional supplement called ying yang bao, which is rich with iron, zinc, calcium and a variety of vitamins.

Sprinkling this mixture on meals once a day will make up for dietary deficiencies, and it will only cost 32 cents per packet to make and distribute. Studies in 2006 confirm that the supplement significantly reduces anemia and improves growth, but parents struggle with consistently feeding the nutrient-rich mix to their children.

China’s government has not given up. The drive of the country’s current five year plan is to end all poverty in China by 2020. While this may sound ambitious, China has an incredible recent history of eradicating poverty and effectively lifting over 800 million people out of extreme disparity since the late 1970’s. If this massive country is able to keep at its current pace, China may be the first country to have a poverty and hunger free population.

Emiliano Perez

Photo: Flickr

Ending Poverty Through Tourism in China

China has announced it will work on moving 12 million people out of poverty by developing the country’s tourism industry. On May 19, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stated that over the next five years, China will make a great attempt towards ending poverty through tourism development. The Premier made this announcement at the inaugural World Conference on Tourism Development in Beijing.

While China is best known for its rich urban cities, many rural areas are still steeped in poverty. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, approximately 40 percent of China’s poor live in rural areas. China hopes to boost tourism to rural areas so that more money flows through these regions.

By developing their tourism industry, China will also be able to increase the number of jobs available to individuals. According to Xinhua, tourism makes up only 4.9 percent of China’s gross domestic product, yet directly employs 28 million people.

In 2013, the BBC discussed the way in which tourism development is directly linked to poverty alleviation. The article quoted the acting Chief Executive of the Travel Foundation U.K. as saying, “Tourism has been described as the world’s largest transfer of resources from rich to poor.”

However, the Foundation also asserted that it was difficult for these resources to stay within poor areas. While China’s rural and natural areas may attract foreigners, it is crucial that the Chinese government reinvests tourism profits back into these communities.

This strategy of poverty alleviation through tourism is not new: The United Nations’ World Tourism Organization Network created an initiative in 2002 called Sustainable Tourism – Eliminating Poverty that aims to support developing countries, improve and grow their tourism industry and bring communities out of poverty.

China’s five-year plan for ending poverty through tourism development comes after the United Nations’ announcement in December that 2017 would be the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. According to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization, in terms of international arrivals, China was already the third most visited country in the world in 2015, a mark they hope only to build on in the future.

Isabella Farr

Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition Plagues Children
China became an economic superpower in only a matter of decades. Forbes Magazine’s annual rich list reported that China has had 152 billionaires this past year. The once struggling nation has shown promising improvement. According to the World Bank, the number of impoverished people living in China dropped from 683 million in 1990 to 157 million in 2009. This improvement is a result of the rapid urbanization in China in recent years. Greater economic opportunity and government assistance is now available in cities. However, children in rural villages are stuck in a seemingly unbreakable cycle of poverty.

The children of rural China face a variety of challenges that are virtually nonexistent in the cities. Among one of the most glaring is the struggle against malnutrition. UNICEF estimates that there are 12.7 million stunted children in China; this life-long condition that results from severe malnutrition plagues children most during early childhood.

In addition to malnutrition, anemia takes a tremendous toll on rural Chinese children. Stanford University conducted a test on 1824 babies in China’s Shaanxi Province. Forty nine percent of the babies tested were anemic and 28 percent were near anemic. Furthermore, of all the babies tested, 40 percent displayed cognitive or motor problems.

Why are rates of anemia so high? Stanford reports that while the parents were generally willing to spend additional money on food for their children, they were uninformed on what type of nutritional value the food should have. Many micronutrients, such as iron, were missing, indicating that fresh fruits and vegetables were consumed infrequently. Additionally, further investigation revealed that mothers stopped breastfeeding after six months. From that point on, the child would typically eat rice porridge or soups.

Misinformed parents are often responsible for their children’s poor health. Parents often do not introduce solid food into children’s diets until they are 12 to 18 months old, though it is recommended that solid food make up half of a one-year-old’s diet. Many parents believe myths that babies cannot digest hard foods or that particular foods, like rice, are better for cognitive development.

Treating anemia and replenishing nutrients is actually quite easy. Stanford researchers state that simply taking iron supplements can counter anemia. To address the rampant malnutrition in China’s poor, rural provinces, UNICEF has begun to distribute a nutrition supplement called Ying Yang Bao. Ying Yang Bao is a small packet of powdered vitamins, minerals and proteins that can be mixed into solid foods like porridge.

Many rural Chinese families cannot afford to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins like beef. Dairy products are also expensive and difficult to access. Often, noodles, porridge, rice and starches like potatoes constitute meals. Fortunately, the micronutrients in Ying Yang Bao are easily dissolved in porridges and soups.

UNICEF reports that, between 2008 and 2011, more than 30,000 rural children received Ying Yang Bao. After consumption, anemia levels were cut in half. A long-term solution to malnutrition is still in the works. While aid from UNICEF and other organizations is improving the health of rural children, education is a key issue to be addressed. Parents are misguided by myths and superstitions, which has led to the silent suffering on many children. A public education program has not been officially instituted, but would be another component of China’s long-term solution for malnutrition.

– Bridget Tobin

Sources: UNICEF, Stanford, World Bank, CNBC, The Guardian