Publication Title

Rural Schooling in China: a Multidisciplinary Analysis of Its Changing Ecology

Publication Date


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Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education



This chapter explores the relationship between village girls’ schooling and enhanced capabilities and achievements in western China during the economic explosion in the first decade of the 21st century. We seek to understand what village girls wanted and gained, what opportunities for change they sought to obtain from schooling, why they and their families sacrificed much to attend low quality schooling. Capturing these dynamics may allow us to identify the lever that generates change and frame policy that enhances and increases relevant opportunities to eliminate extreme poverty

Seeberg’s empowerment-capability framework (Seeberg and Lou 2012) applies Sen’s capability approach[i] to rural girls’ schooling. This chapter reports the findings from interviews with 23 girls and young women from one village as they describe how they valued schooling and how this was associated with attainment levels. We found that with rising attainment the girls gained certain empowerment capabilities and achieved more socially-just gender identities. The gains, however, were unequally distributed, neatly slicing the group into two clusters with distinct life paths. Those who dropped schooling in grades seven through nine, had gained just enough to leave the village for low-skilled jobs in cities, and found themselves confronted with new opportunities to which to aspire. Those who continued in school past grade nine gained a larger set of empowering capabilities, enacted more choices and experienced more freedoms. Both clusters achieved re-gendered identity functionings, particularly delayed marriage, and decreased preference for boys and numerous children. Though not to the same degree, schooling enables the girls “to lead longer, freer and more fruitful lives, in addition to the role they have in promoting productivity and economic growth or individual incomes” (Sen, 1997, p. 1961).

[i] Integrating concepts provided by Bourdieu, Appadurai, Nussbaum, Kabeer and Unterhalter