A group of Valparaiso University students traveled to China in March to assess how the country’s education system is dealing with the equality issue now that China has embarked on market-oriented reform and experience growing economic prosperity.

Led by Zhimin Lin, professor of political science, eight Valpo students – Anna Horkey, Jeung Han Lee, Bo Hou, Peter Keim, Ashley Roll, Amber Will, Zach Merrill, and Benjamin Powers spent a portion of their spring break investigating the subject first hand. In nine days, they visited 15 elementary, middle, and high schools in two cities, Hangzhou and Jiande, and one county, Zhanyi County of Yunnan province. At each visit, they spoke with school administrators, toured the facilities, and interacted with students in and out of the classrooms. In addition, they collected some 700 surveys prepared specially for the field research trip.

“Having no time to recover from jet lag, they worked hard from day one to the last day in China learning about and witnessing the enormous changes that have taken place there over the past 30 years,” Lin said. “The students were able to evaluate what many saw as the growing gap in education between rural and urban residents, genders, income groups, and families with different social status, and assess the success and failures of government policies designed to address educational inequality in China.”

The students also were able to use their Chinese language skills and knowledge of China to not only do research through interaction but also to act as ambassadors bridging the gap across cultures.

“I feel extremely blessed to have been able to go on such a research trip,” said Roll. “Never before have I been treated with such kindness while also being able to immerse ourselves into our research topic.”

The field research trip is part of a semester-long course. Since 2002, more than 120 students have taken part in the annual spring break trip sponsored by the Chinese and Japanese Studies program. Before the trip, the students learned as much background information as possible, designed various research instruments, and developed individual research agendas with a common theme. After the trip, they will incorporate their findings into individual research papers. The research seminar is open to all majors who have some prior exposure to East Asian culture, history, and current affairs. Those interested in future trips should contact Dr. Lin at Zhimin.Lin@valpo.edu.