From the Expats

It makes sense to study where they live

By Ian Morrison (China Daily)
Updated: 2012-11-13 08:10

Education is a subject close to my heart. As the father of a 7-year-old boy, I have gained firsthand experience of the progress made in China's education system and the challenges facing it.

When my son was a preschooler, the availability of sufficient places at public kindergartens was a problem, and it remains so.

Preschool education is not a legal requirement, and as Beijing has rapidly expanded over the past decade, the authorities have not felt it necessary to build and staff a sufficient number of public kindergartens in new areas, leaving the gap to be filled by private, and therefore expensive kindergartens, which in many cases offer a quality of education, teaching staff or curriculum that leaves a lot to be desired.

It makes sense to study where they live

Like many families in Beijing, we had no option but to initially send our son to a private kindergarten, which took a healthy chunk of around 3,000 yuan ($460) out of my monthly salary. This situation lasted until we were fortunate enough, through a friend of a friend, to get my son a place at a public kindergarten, where the fees were less than one-third of our previous private experience, the staff were fully qualified, and the curriculum was set by the municipal education authorities.

We were lucky, but sadly many families in Beijing and across China are not, putting many of them at the mercy of private kindergarten operators, such as in Wenling, Zhejiang province, where a scandal recently erupted over the physical abuse of at least one child at the hands of a teacher at a small private kindergarten, something which is every parent's nightmare.

Fortunately the situation in terms of access to primary education is much better.

We live in an area of Beijing that has essentially come into being as an urban community over the past 15 years.

A part of a new development that went up before our very eyes shortly after we moved to this area in early 2007 is a lovely, modern primary school, only five minutes' walk from our home, at which my son is now in his second year.

But things would not have been so straightforward had it not been for a reform introduced in Beijing in 2010.

Due to China's household registration laws, as my wife's residence is registered in her hometown in Northeast China, my son is also registered there.

Before 2010, parents with children whose hukou - household registration - was outside Beijing had to pay schools hefty "sponsorship fees" to ensure that there children were enrolled.

However, thanks to a change in the capital's regulations on school enrolment, primary and secondary school students without Beijing hukou now have the same rights as those with registered residency in the city.

In addition, guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education on Sept 1 spell the beginning of the end of the situation where students are prohibited from taking the gaokao - the national college entrance examination - if they don't have local household registration, regardless of how long they or their family have lived there.

According to the guidelines, provincial-level governments should publish measures that allow students to take the exam where they currently reside, instead of where they are registered.

However, the ministry has left it up to local authorities to decide how and when to implement the guidelines.

Hopefully these are the first steps in a reform of the hukou system to ensure that all citizens have equal access to public services based on their current place of residence, rather than a place they no longer - and in the case of many children - never did, call home.

In terms of ensuring greater social justice and equality, this is an issue that the new Chinese leaders may consider addressing as a priority.

Ian Morrison is a senior copy editor at China Daily. He can be contacted at