Building Schools Near the Front Doors of Poor Peasants: The Effects of a Massive Rural Education Expansion in Pre-reform China
68 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2022
Date Written: July 18, 2022
On the eve of its economic reforms, China achieved a much higher level of secondary education than other countries with a similar per capita income at the time. This study investigates the pre-reform formation of China's human capital by examining a massive rural education expansion program during the Cultural Revolution that increased the number of secondary schools more than tenfold. We examine newly compiled county-level data from local gazetteers and reach three important findings. First, we provide strong evidence that the program significantly improved rural children's educational attainment, and that teachers contributed more to this improvement than schools. Second, this rapid expansion was associated with a deterioration in education quality, but the presence of sufficient teachers helped mitigate the negative trade-off between quantity and quality. Third, by building a pool of middle-skilled labor years later, the education expansion program boosted local agricultural yields and increased the productivity of the township and village enterprises that emerged after the reform.
Keywords: Rural Education, Human Capital, Cultural Revolution, Chinese Economy
JEL Classification: I25, I28, J24, N35, O15
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