In recent decades, China has experienced dramatic economic growth. As every coin has two sides, this is followed by more severe social stratification division and significant regional education disparity between rural and urban areas as the result of the divisive economic structure, increasing income inequality and unbalanced development. Therefore, it is not surprising to find children from most deprived areas in China are lack of access to basic education or higher education while their peers living in big cities can attend private school, take part in all kinds of fancy extracurricular activities and get the best education.


China has made great efforts and huge progress in bridging this gap during the past 30 years. Since the Chinese government implemented the compulsory education of nine years and promoted educational expansion, the Gini coefficient, which is adopted in measuring the education inequality, has experienced a dramatic decline since 1996 in China (Qian, X. Smyth, R., 2005). While this indicates the narrowing of the gap, it still reveals the existing regional differences as the poorer western provinces have the higher Gini coefficient than richer eastern provinces and average years of schooling in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai are much higher than that in rural cities. AYS in urban and rural are 10.4 years and 7.22 years respectively (Jun, Y. Xiao, H. Xin L., 2014).


No single reason can explain this. Generally speaking, on one side, the unfair access to education of high quality is the result of the unbalanced development between areas, which causes the inadequate distribution of educational investment. Despite the rapid economic growth, it is showed that the ratio of public expenditure on education does not keep up with the GDP growth rate and remains low (Jun, Y. Xiao, H. Xin L., 2014). Also, the distribution of education resources in urban cities is superior to rural areas. There is a common lack of qualified teachers with a college education as well as a sufficient supply of teaching facilities in those poor regions. On the other side, the increasing income inequality originating from the social stratification division contributes to greater inequality of educational attainment. The fact is that the higher income group you belong to, the more and better education you may acquire. Advantaged groups in urban cities usually receive a disproportionate amount of the available good quality education (Jun, Y. Xiao, H. Xin L., 2014).


It is also worth mentioning that the education inequality between genders used to attach much attention. In rural areas, many families are too poor to afford equal chances for each child to attend school. In this case, men are likely to enjoy priority in receiving education over women. But this situation is getting better thanks to the lasting gender equality promotion. At present, most families in rural areas no longer prefer boys than girls, thus this gender inequality is at a low level compared to the past.


Overall, both national and regional education inequality is much lower in China than before, while still exists, and the disparities of access to educational resources between rural and urban areas are the major cause. As most educational resources are controlled by the government, it is indispensable that they pay more attention to increasing educational transfer payments to less-developed provinces, especially for some poverty-stricken areas mainly located in the west.


Written by Weixuan Li.




Jun, Y., Xiao, H., Xin L., 2014. An analysis of education inequality in China. International Journal of Educational Development, 37, 2-10.

Qian, X., Smyth, R., 2005. Measuring regional inequality of education in China: widening cost-inland gap or widening rural-urban gap? ABERU Discussion Paper, 12. Department of Economics, Monash University, Australia.