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Children in a classroom taking a maths test

Southwest Basic Education Project

One of China’s largest education projects, the Southwest Basic Education Project (SBEP) aimed to improve education for over 1.6 million children, especially girls, in four of China’s poorest provinces – Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi.

Our specialist consultancy Cambridge Education worked with the British Council to support the Chinese Ministry of Education and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) on the £27 ​million project. SBEP built on lessons learned from the Gansu Basic Education Project, also designed and managed by Cambridge Education.


China’s rapid development has seen the east of the country moving faster than the west – consequently many areas in the southwest region are lagging behind. The support from the SBEP focused on improving the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) own programmes to achieve universal basic education in these areas.


Building on lessons learned from the DFID Gansu Basic Education Project, SBEP responded to the need to support improvements in teacher and head teacher training with complementary activities at administrative-level. The project directly benefited 1,650,000 school-aged children in 27 of the poorest counties in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, and Guangxi provinces by improving equitable access to basic education, education quality and management.

Combining a bottom-up with a top-down approach, the project developed a training module specifically targeting county education officials. Developing leadership and school planning skills across the project’s 27 County Education Bureaus, the training was among the first of its kind in China.

At the start of the SBEP, our baseline showed that within the project area only 1% of head teachers were women in junior middle schools. We set up the 'Women in Leadership' programme to train teachers, head teachers and officials in equity.

Progress was made in improving boarding school conditions, introducing participatory approaches to education, leadership training, promoting women in education and school development planning.

Children learning fractions
Strengthening South West China's education system
Strengthening South West China's education system Progress was made in introducing participatory approaches to education.
The project team reviewing materials
Improving teaching and management quality
Improving teaching and management quality SBEP support focused on improving the Ministry of Education’s own programmes to achieve universal basic education.

Value and benefits

  • We designed the Student Achievement Study to assess the potential impact of the project’s interventions on students’ performance, especially the performance of disadvantaged children. Through careful monitoring and evaluating of SBEP and its impacts we were able to provide evidence of the effectiveness of the project.
  • As part of its commitment to schools development and education planning, SBEP is also ran the Women in Leadership programme
  • Nearly 100 CEB Directors received training through the National Academy of Education Administration in Beijing. The training involved role play and discussion on the role of the County Education Bureau as well as the issues and challenges surrounding education equity and quality.
  • Training has been provided for over 75,000 teachers on participatory approaches and effective use of distance learning.
  • By the end of the project, the Women in Leadership programme had supported Fugong County, Yunnan Province to promote 22 female deputy head teachers or senior managers in 22 schools.
teachers trained in participatory approaches and effective use of distance learning
County Education Bureau directors trained in education administration
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