Abstract: Can Left-behind Children in Rural China be Successful in School Settings? a Qualitative Study of YY County from Rural Teachers' Perspectives (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

638P Can Left-behind Children in Rural China be Successful in School Settings? a Qualitative Study of YY County from Rural Teachers' Perspectives

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Linyun Fu, MSW, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Yiqi Zhu, PhD Candidate, Washington University in Saint Louis, St.Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: Most research on left-behind children in rural China has focused on the barriers and challenges in their school lives. However, very limited research has been done to explore potential factors for their success in both academic performance and interpersonal relationships. Many studies have attributed problems of with left-behind children to the parenting style of grandparents, who are the main caregivers in most cases. This study aims at understanding the real school lives of left-behind children from rural teachers’ perspectives and to identify the key factor that supports left-behind children’s success in the school setting. Policy recommendations are given to inform local education bureaus to better support rural teachers to educate left-behind children.

Methods: Forty-eight in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with rural teachers in YY county in southwestern China. YY county was chosen because the local education bureau expressed a deep interest in collaborating for practical recommendations to better support left-behind children. Quota sampling was used to gain a representative sample. Based on their socioeconomic statuses, villages were categorized into three levels; from each level, two elementary and two middle schools were chosen (six elementary schools and six middle schools in total). In each elementary school, two teachers from lower grades and two teachers from higher grades were interviewed, and in every middle school four teachers were interviewed, leading to a total of sample of forty eight. All chosen teachers are “classroom teachers” who play the main management roles in class. 

Findings: This study found that there is no significant difference between left-behind children and their peers regarding school performance. However, that conclusion also reveals that left-behind children are mostly in vulnerable status not only because they lack care from their parents but also because they are more likely to experience issues associated with divorced or single-parent families. Surprisingly, this study indicated that left-behind children can be successful in schools if there is existing strong support. The key characteristic of left-behind children with good academic performance or strong interpersonal relationships is that they have at least one of these support systems:1) Parental support (frequently check in with teachers via phone call or wechat call); 2) Grandparental support (active communication with teachers, follow or mimic teacher’s education style after school/relatively good education/open-minded); 3) Teacher support (special attention paid to a left-behind child); and 4) Other support systems (support from other immediate kin).

Conclusion and Implications: Findings highlight that frequent and close communication between left-behind children’s social support system and school teachers is the key factor to their success in the school setting. Left-behind children can be very successful as long as one of their social support systems operates well. Additionally, this study also identified some successful cases of grandparent education style.  Local education bureaus could better support rural teachers to educate left-behind children by decreasing rural teachers’ administrative workload, authorizing more power for them to educate students, and providing them with more practical mental health support and pedagogical method through workshop or training session.