Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Providing equal education will take time

By Li Jianzhong (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-05 07:51

Issuing a directive on how to improve school exams and enrol students, the State Council, China's cabinet, on Thursday reiterated the importance of curbing the craze of "school selection". It has made it clear that students can be admitted to only primary and middle schools in their neighborhood, or school district.

Many parents try to get their children admitted to key primary or middle schools for which they pay a certain amount of money known as "selection" fees. This "school selection" trend is what the State Council directive is expected to check.

Making it mandatory for children to attend schools in their neighborhood is a common practice in many countries, because it ensures fair distribution of education resources. The ban on "school selection" is thus a huge step forward toward equality in education, which, in turn, is expected to end corruption.

Since 1949, the Ministry of Education has focused on developing a small number of key primary and high schools that enjoy generous fiscal allocations and favorable policies, which enable them to attract the best teachers and equip themselves with the best resources. Consequently, paying bribes to get children admitted to such schools has become increasingly rampant with an ever-growing urban population.

Corruption in schools comes in many forms. Powerful government officials only need to pull some strings to get a seat for their or their relatives' children in the best schools. And parents with no "connections" may bribe school officials under the garb of making a donation. A host of corruption cases related to admission quotas have been exposed in recent years. In 2012, for instance, 119 seats in a primary school in Guangzhou were "sold" to parents, each for selection fees between 10,000 ($1,628) and 30,000 yuan.

The new State Council directive, although a welcome move, will have some side effects. Take Beijing, where the pilot policy is being implemented this year, for example. The net result of the new policy is that housing prices in districts with the best schools have shot through the roof. Purchasing a house in the best school districts, and thus ensuring their children's admission to the best schools, is not a problem for the rich. The policy could therefore give rise to another form of inequality.

A 10-square-meter apartment in Wenchang Hutong, a neighborhood close to one of the best primary schools in Beijing, can cost 3.4 million yuan. Houses in Wudaokou, which has a cluster of key schools, are fetching 100,000 yuan per sq m. In comparison, housing prices in Beijing's central business district are between 50,000 yuan and 70,000 yuan per sq m.

Hence, the ultimate solution to the over-demand for seats in good schools in major cities is to improve the infrastructure and quality of teachers in all schools, and the Ministry of Education has taken measures in this regard. Also, the leading schools should establish branches and send their best teachers in rotation to the new establishments to help improve the teaching standards there.

Realizing fair distribution of education resources in major cities will take a long time. In the meantime, famous schools have caught the fancy of parents, and "tiger moms" and "wolf dads", who add up to quite a large number, are willing to get their children the best education at any cost. This means parents will still try to get their children admitted to key schools using every means possible. And if "selection fees" are banned, they will buy apartments in the neighborhoods of good schools even at ridiculously high prices to get their children the "best education".

The author is an associate researcher at the National Institute of Educational Sciences.

Most Viewed Today's Top News