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New private school sparks controversy

New private school sparks controversy

Updated: 2012-03-19 08:06

By Wang Hongyi in Shanghai (China Daily)

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The first school that exclusively targets the children of returned overseas Chinese in Shanghai has become a controversial topic and sparked heated discussion about the country's education system.

The school, named Shanghai Starriver Overseas Chinese School, will open in September and plans to enroll 50 to 100 students.

Tuition costs about 41,500 yuan ($6,600) per semester. In ordinary public schools, tuition is exempted under the country's compulsory education plan.

With a building area of about 30,000 square meters, Starriver includes a primary school and a junior middle school that are fully equipped with facilities meeting international standards. The teaching environment will be bilingual.

"Some overseas Chinese parents in Shanghai don't want their children to have pure Western education in the city's international schools. But they don't want to send them to traditional public schools either, which have long been criticized for their examination-oriented education," said Liu Maoxiang, a teacher at Shanghai High School, whose international division manages Starriver.

The new school, located near some international communities in Minhang district, is attempting to gear its educational mode toward a global view as well as toward traditional Chinese culture, the teacher said.

A teacher surnamed Chen, who is in charge of enrollment, said about 100 children's names have been entered at present. She said the final list of names will be announced in coming months.

"The school provides a good choice for those overseas Chinese parents who have experienced overseas education themselves and set a high standard of education for their children. Also, it will attract more overseas Chinese to return to the country," said Steve Wang, a 32-year-old man who received his master's degree in the United States years ago.

"But the tuition fee, I think, is a little bit expensive," he added.

Some parents expressed different views. "I would prefer the traditional middle school for my boy, because I'd like him to immerse himself in traditional Chinese culture, which the international schools or the special schools for the kids of returned overseas Chinese cannot provide," said Chen Peiqin, journalism professor at Shanghai International Studies University.

From 2006 to 2007 she was a visiting scholar in the US, where her son attended school in the ninth grade.

Zhang Hongling, a professor in Shanghai International Studies University, shares a different opinion. "I will leave the decision of choosing a school to my daughter herself. But personally I don't think it is very necessary to send her to the special school for the kids of returned overseas Chinese. Considering the amount of money charged by Starriver, I would rather send her to study overseas," she said.

Disputes about "elite" or "aristocratic" schools at the early stage of children's education are increasing, since more and more primary schools and kindergartens are opening, charging high tuition for the children from rich families.

In September 2002, the Beijing Zhongguancun International School, which targets the children of foreigners and returned overseas Chinese, was founded. The school includes preschool, primary and junior middle school education with fees beginning at 63,000 yuan a year.

Similar schools include the Beijing Xinyingcai International School, which was founded in 2005 and targets the children of social elites. The school charges about 70,000 yuan per year.

"In recent years, the so-called 'elite' schools have been widely seen across the country. Some of them can actually provide quality education. But some of them fall short of their reputation," said Sun Baohong, an expert from Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

"We can see that more parents want their children to receive an international education that can better open up a child's potential rather than focusing on examinations. Such a phenomenon, to some extent, can press public schools to reform their current education system."

Shanghai University sociology professor Gu Jun praised such schools and said they provided more choice for parents who were dissatisfied with the country's education.

"The country provides compulsory education, but more and more parents, especially those have received overseas education, are expressing their negative feelings toward the current education mode. Now they can choose a school that provides internationalized teaching for their children," Gu said. "Of course, they should pay a high price for this."

Deng Jin contributed to this story.