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Left-behind Children research in 2019 to earlier 2020

Project took place in 2019 to earlier 2020 in Hubei, China

The field research took place at  Liji Primary School, Yaoji County, Wuhan city, Hubei Province in 2019. I accompanied more than 70 rural left-behind children for a week as a volunteer teacher, which was a further attempt to explore rural left-behind children's mental health.

Before heading for Liji Primary School, I was thinking about the seven days spent with these children, not only for my project to explore and discover, I hope to bring something real to them within seven days. So, I made a school timetable with detailed plans before I went there, hoping to find more problems from getting along with children within seven days and finding valuable inspiration.


Special Populations, Inclusive Education, Child Poverty, Social Change, Social design

Research Methods:

Participatory Research
Experimental Research
Field Studies
Stereotype Research
Desk Research

Research Locations:

Liji Primary School, Yaoji County, Wuhan city, Hubei Province

​School website:

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Liji Primary School

First time being at the classroom, I felt the vast differences between rural and urban education resources. The desk was uneven and diversified, so was the chair. Since July was the summer vacation time for Chinese schools, no one was in the school during this period.


When students knew there was a volunteer teacher from city would come to organise some workshops and activities, 72 children came to the school for a week. The oldest was 11 years old, and the youngest was only 6 years old, including 63 of them were left-behind children.

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A Little More

The project in 2019 to earlier 2020, focused on analyzing rural left-behind children in China to explore their real demand deeply. By organizing a series of activities, including questionnaires, shadowing with children, Interviews with different stakeholders, Story-sharing(a cup of the story), and co-discovery activities, which effectively establishes contact with target groups and stakeholders to understand the real needs from it.


In the definition and development stages, the project summarized the user personas based on the obtained insights, concluding the research question and value proposition. To further carry out the exchange from the question stage to the design stage, a co-design workshop with 71 participants was held. The workshop verified the question-answer, and regular prototype tests and feedbacks determine the design direction and specific scheme.


Project Timeline

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Project Methodology

Project Group




Key quotes from parents, relatives, children, volunteers, child psychologists and rural teachers


To find out more about the research has been doing in 2019 - earlier in 2020, please be free to contact me.

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The project's target user in 2019 research is left-behind children with potential psychological problems (Age: under 14), specifically in remote villages in China. The project uses the central region of China, Hubei province, as the research area to deeply explore left-behind children's life condition, hoping to contribute to rural development and help them grow up in an al-round and healthy way.


Why the research focused on left-behind children age under 14?

1. According to the data, the crime rate of left-behind children is generally over 14 years old. It is more important to pay attention to the mental health of left-behind children under the age of 14, properly guide and prevent criminal consciousness and behaviors.


2. Children over 14 years old have formed a fixed three-outlook; their thinking is set and cannot be changed easily. Moreover, they are just in adolescence, which is a rebellious stage. For left-behind children over 14 years old, it is difficult to develop psychotherapy, and it is not very effective.


3. Children under 14 years old have not yet fully formed their minds and views and are more likely to receive guidance from the outside world.

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I realized that if I want to understand their conditions quickly, I needed to produce a concise and practical questionnaire. It needed to ask questions in sentences that children can understand. Later on, when the epidemic went terrible in Wuhan in earlier 2020,  I also tried to understand these children's real living conditions under the epidemic situation combined with the current social situation through online interviews and questionnaires (social situation under CONVID-19 epidemic).


Seventy-one participants were involved in the questionnaire, and 71 valid questionnaires were collected, including 31 males and 40 females. The oldest was 11 years old, and the youngest was only seven years old, including 63 left-behind children.

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There is a child named Shen Quan. His father died early, and his mother went out to work. He lived with his grandparents. The material condition of his family was better. He talked with volunteer more at home but never spoke in school and seldom participated in group activities. Even though he was Grade 2 now, he barely could’ t write. He is addicted to video games at home. His grandparents only cared about his physical condition but ignoring his mental growth. In the role painting activity, Shen Quan painted an animation character called “Gru” from Despicable Me. He wanted to have a father as a friend. His mother, who came home to visit her family, was shocked to hear that and realized that she had neglected the child’s mental growth.

After understanding the condition of the left-behind children from Changpucun Primary School, I did a follow-up interview called one day life to a child named Shen Quan. I recorded his daily routine between 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., from which I obtained some information inspirations.


” I am already 70 years old and have even never read a book. I have stayed in the countryside all my life, and I don't know how to educate him, what I can do is to ensure that he will never starve.“


—— From a 70-year-old grandfather, alone in the countryside looking after an 8-year-old grandson

“ I want to talk to my children, why not? How can I do not love my  own child? But every time I pick up the phone, I don't know what to talk about with my kids. So I'm on the phone less and less with my kids, and I'm busy with my job. I have to earn money to support my family.“


—— From a working mother in Guangdong, whose child is 12 years old

”His mother left him with me to take care . But he doesn't listen to me. I don't know what he's talking about, and he doesn't understand what I'm talking about. Every time I taught him, he would yell at me, "You're not my mother!" So what else can I do? “


—— From an aunt of a 9 years old left-behind child

“ Perhaps because they haven't established a close relationship with their parents since childhood, their hearts are always fragile. Even a strong man will feel like a rabbit in his eyes when talking about his mother.” 

—— From a math teacher at Liji primary school

“The guardians of these children are mostly elderly illiterate, and they have little ability to help and supervise their children’s learning. However, due to the limitations and constraints of teaching conditions, teachers and teaching concepts, rural schools cannot provide education and care for left-behind children. There is also a lack of communication between."

—— From a Chinese teacher at Liji primary school

“ I am glad that many sensible children can understand the difficulties of teachers. They are lively and shy, careful and intelligent (many female students are like this). Although they are not so good at study, they never give up easily and have a strong desire to change the status quo. They are no different from other urban children, except that the environment has made them weak in learning and poor in academic performance. But that is not their problem, it is our society' problem. "

—— From a teacher in rural area who has more than 20 years of education experience in the countryside


“ The child was very poor. They did not know the outside world, or even what a supermarket was. The biggest supermarket he had ever been to was the supermarket in the town. No fifth grader knows what to turn on a computer.”


—— From a math teacher in rural area, who has just been teaching in the countryside for six months


“ The biggest problem of left-behind children is that they don't have close relationship with their parents when they are young. There is no remedy for this problem, and it can have a huge negative impact on growth and adulthood.”


—— From a teacher at Liji primary school



“ Part of the students, out of the guidance of wrong values, never think that their violation of discipline and law have anything wrong, the ideological education in this case is like a joke, it's pale.”

—— From the headmaster at Liji primary school

" Psychological counseling is especially important in the education of left-behind children. However, at this stage, there are many challenges such as insufficient number of professional psychological teachers, the need to improve their professional level, and the lack of supporting evaluations related to mental health education. "


—Bian Yufang, professor, Director, Institute of Mental Health and Education, Beijing Normal University

“ Increasing the number of friends left-behind children have can help ease their social avoidance.”


—Wanqian , children education professor at Tsinghua University

“Left-behind children are prone to extreme behaviors such as mental health problems and even crimes due to long-term separation from their parents and lack of family care and effective supervision.”


—He Fusheng, children education professor at Tsinghua University

"As a psychodynamic therapist, I believe that development is gradually completed. At the same time, I pay attention to the unconscious processes in development. For children with special circumstances, unconscious revelation may be the most true feeling in their hearts."


-Lisa B.Moschini


After understanding more children' condition, I became interested in more children's stories. The story behind children also was conducive to understand the problems they are facing for me. Hence, I carried out an activity named " A cup of the story " in class centered on story-sharing. I brought some candy, hot chocolate, and tea, hoping to create a comfortable and relaxing environment that allows children to open their hearts and share their stories. What's more, sharing the stories also helped unite the class and enhance the relation between class students, forming a class atmosphere of mutual help.


In the activation process, there were a lot of stories shared by the class students. Every child is an angel in the world. But, behind their innocent smiling faces is a reality that we have never seen before.

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