Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Education system is not the sole culprit

By Wang Yan (China Daily) Updated: 2013-12-24 07:16

Overseas education has boomed in China in recent years, with a growing number of students pursuing courses abroad at younger ages.

According to the Center for China and Globalization, a non-profit think tank, 76,400, or 19.8 percent of the total Chinese students that went abroad for studies in 2010, had academic certificates below the high school level. A year later, the number of high school students going abroad to study rose to 76,800, or 22.6 percent of the total pursuing education overseas.

With the phenomenon continuing to gain traction this year, there are now concerns whether such a trend augurs well for China's basic education system, especially when the authorities are considering a reform and enrollment plan for the gaokao, or the national college entrance examination. The reform, slated for early next year, also envisages removal of English as a gaokao subject.

Some experts, however, blame the country's basic education system, particularly its flaws, for the loss of faith among parents and their decision to send children abroad for studying. Such explanation actually oversimplifies the phenomenon.

In fact, such a phenomenon is not unique to China. The growing number of self-funded students studying in overseas institutions at a young age is a common trend in Asian countries that have reached a certain level of economic development. It is also common to see Western countries cashing in on this trend. By the end of 2010, most of the top 100 boarding high schools in the United States have started to accept applications from Chinese students. Many countries have also facilitated the visa application process for Chinese teenage students seeking overseas education.

The marked improvement in China's economic development and residential income levels has undoubtedly laid a solid ground for Chinese parents to send their young children abroad for education.

Overseas education in the United Kingdom, the United States and other popular destinations for Chinese students, however, does not come cheap. In many cases, parents have to pay some 300,000 yuan ($49,406) to 600,000 yuan a year to cover their children's tuition fees and living costs. This amounts to the annual income of many Chinese families.

No wonder, the majority of Chinese students studying abroad are from affluent families and mostly from urban areas. With more people joining the high-income group, more Chinese families are expected to gain the financial capacity to send children abroad for education.

Apart from the macroeconomic circumstances, it is a common belief among many Chinese parents that overseas high school education, especially the acquired English proficiency, will prove beneficial for higher education in the destination country. Some families who are contemplating emigration may want their children to gain early access to overseas education so that they can better adapt to overseas life. The families that constantly travel between home and overseas destinations, too, are keen on sending their children abroad to enhance their adaptability.

Of course, there are also those who do so to simply keep up with the Joneses, and for these parents, they should take their financial capacity into account when deciding whether or not and when to send their children to study overseas. Such a decision should be carefully made for whatever purpose that might serve their children best.

It is true that some parents send their children abroad because they are worried about China's rigid exam-oriented education system that comes with heavy homework and enormous pressure from gaokao.

Given the aforesaid, the phenomenon of more Chinese students seeking overseas education is a combined result of various factors. It does command attention and due efforts to address the existing problems in the national basic education system, but it would be too naive to hold the system as the sole cause for a phenomenon that is extending far beyond the country's borders.

The Chinese version of this article appeared in the People's Daily.

(China Daily 12/24/2013 page8)

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