How Do Families Affect Children’s Education and Development?–A Study in Villages at China-Myanmar Border

By Xiaoyun Zhang, Qingyang Xing, Yingchen Yang


At the Yunnan-Myanmar border, there are many paradise-like villages in the mountains and forests, which gives birth to many intelligent children. They are born artists, good at climbing, diving, dancing, singing, and many kinds of skills.

The mountain villages at the Yunnan-Myanmar border. Photo by Wu haiying.

However, when it comes to education, many of them are not so-called good students. Many children perform poorly in class and get bad grades, and some even can’t finish junior high school. Dropouts, fighting, early marriage, those words are familiar to the children here. Gradually, the light in the children’s eyes fades away.

What deprives the children of a bright future?

When it comes to this question, almost everyone will mention the children’s family. Y, a local junior high school teacher, always sighs about her students’ terrible family situation, which makes them tired of studying and truant from school. Although many students were persuaded by Y to return to class, some still dropped out.

“Many parents do not understand how family affects children. Children are the mirror of parents.” Said Z, director of local NGO F, who has worked on children’s development for nearly 20 years. Z tells a real situation. Due to financial difficulties, traditional ideals, and various troubles, many parents fail to care and educate children well, which influenced children’s development a lot.

Economic difficulties and traditional views of family

First of all, due to the underdeveloped local economy, many families can only focus on the immediate needs and not the long-term development of children.

For instance, children in the village have been the labor force from an early age (5 or 6 years old). They take charge of various housework, including grazing, picking potherb, cooking, feeding pigs, and taking care of younger siblings. Some even earn money for the family by doing part-time work, like cutting sugarcane, washing dishes, etc.

So although the tuition and accommodation fees of primary and middle school are free, the opportunity cost of children’s education is still an essential consideration for needy families. That’s why several children dropped out for work before completing compulsory education. And for those graduates from junior high school, many parents push them to work, rather than to enter high school, because the cost of money and time of further education is too high for the family.

Some villages in the mountains. Photo by Wu haiying.

Besides, some traditional beliefs of family play an essential role in local children’s life.

“Boys should work early, and girls should marry early.” This is a motto that many parents keep telling their children. Influenced by this view, the children can hardly break away from the “traditional fate.” Besides, the traditional preference for sons still prevails in border village families, potentially bringing more negative effects to girls’ education and development.

G is a young mother in the village, having her second child at the age of 18. She used to be an excellent student in school. While four years ago, her grandmother accepted betrothal gifts from a man, without asking her opinion. G finally took “her fate,” left school and got married because she didn’t want to see her grandmother down.

The lack and dislocation of family care

Economic difficulties and traditional views closed the door of good education for many children. Furthermore, the lack and dislocation of family care may bring more far-reaching influence on children’s development.

In the village, there are hundreds of “left-behind children” whose parents make a living in distant cities as migrant workers, leaving them in the village with grandparents or other relatives.  Most children can meet their parents only once a year, or even once every few years. The lack of parental care causes trauma in children’s heart, resulting in the children’s all kinds of rebellious behavior.

For those children with parents around, multiple family troubles like drug abuse and domestic violence, also lead to the lack and dislocation of parental care, which casts shadows over their hearts.

The village boy A was eight years old when his father started taking drugs. His mother then remarried and left the village. Owing to the lack of healthy parental love, A was extremely unconfident and isolated, always hiding in the corner and reluctant to play with other children. Though as an excellent dancer, he did not dare to stand on the stage.

As a girl with slow processing speed, M is mistaken for mentally retarded, and gets much more scolding than love and care from her parents. This stimulates her strong desire for care, which becomes the principal reason for her being cheated frequently. At the age of 18, she was sold to Henan province as a bride by a neighbor she trusted. Though she was saved by local NGO R, in the following years, M kept tricked into human trafficking several times by fraudulent MLM (Multi-level marketing) organizations that offered her “family-like” warmth.

Financial difficulties, traditional ideals, and the lack of family care result in the education and development problems of local children. Faced with harsh realities of life, these children with meager resources and competence are more likely to lose in competitions that could change their lives.

Efforts of Government and NGOs

Education may not be the only way out, but it can empower the village children in trouble with inner strength. To make sure all the children can get a good education they deserve, local government and NGOs are making all kinds of efforts.

First of all, the government has provided precise assistance for registered poverty-stricken households since 2016 to ensure that their children can go to school instead of earning money for the family. And local NGOs also raise funds to help poor children with their school-related expenses.

To break the traditional view, local government officers visit villages from time to time, to publicize to the parents the necessity for children to complete the nine-year compulsory education.

Also, to raise parents’ awareness of family education, NGO R and F actively communicates with parents, which led to more and more rural parents to realize their responsibilities. Besides, NGO F has set up a professional training program for parents, guiding them to establish a better parent-child relationship.

Moreover, NGO R is working hard to heal the children’s inner wounds and bring sunshine to their hearts. NGO R has set up a diversified curriculum system suitable for the children, escort their way to school, and guide them to establish healthy values and close relationships. R’s big house is like a warm home, in which every child is respected and loved.

The children are taking photos. Photo by Wu haiying.

Own strengths of rural children

With the government and NGOs’ help, rural children have gradually established a healthy sense of self-worth and showed their strengths. Besides, some children learn to make a clear plan for their life inch by inch.

With R’s help, the shy boy A became more confident and courageous. After father’s death, A became the official head of the household register. As he was preparing for the college entrance examination, he also dealt with complicated family affairs like illegal debt claim, and protected his family well. Moreover, he adheres to his hobbies and is more open to communicate with others. He even wrote books to introduce astronomical knowledge to his classmates. Though still faced with struggles in life, now he is full of passion and bravery.

L is another victim girl of long-time domestic violence, but L has never given herself up. From primary school to high school, she keeps one of the top students in the class. In NGO R, she acted as the backbone in the mountaineering team and teaching assistant as well. Now she is studying hard, pursuing her college dream.

On the road to promoting the development of border village children in trouble, lights are lit up one after another from all directions, sending shines to the children and guiding them to find out their silver lining. Perhaps, one day in the future, the children would no longer suffer from the limitation and pain from the original family, and embrace their rights to receive an education.

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