by law, chinese children are guaranteed nine years of education, which is divided into two parts: primary (小学 grades 1-6) and middle (初中 grades 7-9, but called in chinese middle 1, middle 2 and middle 3). in practice, however, many children don’t receive an elementary school education, let alone a middle school education. by law, the obligatory education (义务教育) that each student receives should be equal. in practice, however, even within the same school, students often receive very different educations. things become even stickier at the high school level, where the state is no longer required to educate all students, even though a high school education is a prerequisite for taking the college entrance examination.
the other day, i met with other educators to discuss the problem of education equality in shenzhen. they presented two reasons for the discrepancy between the law and its implementation.
first, each municipality or county is responsible for the education of all children with household registration in their district. this means that children with beijing household registration have the right to go to public education in beijing, while children with a rural anhui registration can go to school in a village school. should a child be moved from the place of household registration to another locality, that child does not have the right to public education in the new locality. at this point, parents have a choice. they can either send their child to school back to the place where they have household registration and thereby take advantage of the public education system; they can pay extra fees to send their child to school where they are living, or they can pay more money to send their child to a private school. consequently, poor children, who have moved with their parents often do not go to school because their parents cannot afford the fees.
in shenzhen, the problem of educating children without household registration is particularly acute because most inhabitants aren’t legally shenzhen residents. moreover, roughly two-thirds of the city’s estimated 13 million come from the countryside and cannot afford to pay extra fees at either public or private schools. consequently, there are squatter schools (棚户学校) located throughout the city, where poor children are schooled. these schools are underfunded. moreover, they usually only provide for an elementary education. many children must return to their hometowns in order to go to middle school.
second, the point of education remains high scores on the college entrance exam. high schools are ranked by the percentage of graduates who go to college, as well as the percentage that test into the best colleges. in turn, middle schools are ranked by the percentage of students that test into the best high schools; likewise, elementary schools are ranked by the percentage of students who test into the best middle schools. in order to cultivate students who can achieve the necessary scores to test into top schools at the next level, many chinese schools have what are known as “important homerooms (重点班)”. the best teachers in the school are assigned to these homerooms. students are placed in these homerooms based on test scores. mid-terms and finals determine ranking and students are moved from or into an important homeroom after test results are posted.
in shenzhen, for example, an elementary school many have six sixth grade homerooms, two of which would be important homerooms. the students in those homerooms would get the best teachers, the best materials, and the most opportunities to participate in school activities in order to prepare them to do well on middle school entrance exams. students in the other four homerooms would also take the middle school entrance exams, but without the extra preparation given to students in the important homerooms. this filtering process continues through each examination level. in fact, these exams are so competitive, that at the middle and high school level, it is not uncommon for schools to stop offering gym, art, music, and other untested subjects to students. by the end of their senior year in high school, students are only doing test preparation.
this fall, the shenzhen government will be holding meetings to discuss what can be done to make education more equal within the municipality. however, as educators pointed out, until the municipality takes responsibility for students without shenzhen household residence or eliminates the practice of important homerooms, inequality will continue to define educational opportunities in shenzhen. what’s more, they said, until the college education system changes, officials, educators, and parents will continue seek every possible advantage for their students and children, that is, perpetuating rather than ameliorating the inequalities.
the school i work at has a primary and middle school division; we are currently applying for accreditation of a high school division.