As summer vacation winds to a close, schools across China are preparing to reopen their doors. But for 174 rising middle school students in eastern China, securing a spot in a classroom became something of an ordeal.
When the students tried to register at a middle school in Linyi, a city of 11 million in Shandong province, they were turned away despite having received acceptance letters, local media outlet iQilu reported Sunday. As a consequence of the overcrowding that plagues many of China’s urban and suburban schools, most of the students were assigned, reassigned, and denied, before finally being admitted.
A woman surnamed Ge told iQilu that her child was turned away when they showed up to register for classes at Linyi 21st Middle School on Aug. 20, though the local education bureau had notified her that she and her child could register for classes anytime between Aug. 18 and 20.
The school’s head of academic affairs, a woman surnamed Lu, told iQilu that the school had turned the students away because it was already overenrolled and didn’t have enough teachers or space. “We couldn’t accept them even if they were to come back again,” she said.
Sixth Tone’s repeated calls to Linyi 21th Middle School on Monday and Tuesday went unanswered.
Whether students are admitted or turned away depends on several factors. Those whose parents own property or have a local hukou — or household registration — in the education subdistrict where the school is located are given first priority. Everyone else, meanwhile, is handled on a first-come, first-serve basis — meaning parents who show up to register their kids on the 18th have a better chance of being admitted than those who come two days later.
Because middle school is part of China’s nine years of compulsory education, every student must be accommodated. When a school’s enrollment quota is reached, any students who try to register after that point are diverted to schools in another subdistrict. In the case of Linyi 21st, most of the above-quota students were told to go to Linyi 20th Middle School — another overenrolled school, according to Liu Jun, office director of the education and sports bureau of Linyi’s Luozhuang District, where the two schools are located.
But that school couldn’t accomodate the children either. “Linyi 20st Middle School can only take in around 1,500 students, though the graduating primary schoolers in that area totaled 2,436 this year,” Liu told iQilu.
To solve the problem of the 174 extra students, Linyi 21st will create two extra classes, Liu told Sixth Tone, adding that a new building has already been built to accommodate them.
However, according to the latest figures to appear on Linyi 21st’s official website, the school had 47 classrooms for 2,730 students and 150 staff, giving an average class size of 58 students — eight more than the province’s recommended maximum.
In the aftermath of the debacle, some residents have questioned the education bureau’s management. “Compulsory education requires planning,” Cheng Fangping, a professor of education at Renmin University of China, told Sixth Tone. “The local education bureau should have prepared for this situation.”
Cheng explained that parents who live in the countryside prefer to bring their children to schools in urban areas, which receive more resources from the government but often end up overcrowded. “These ‘supersized schools’ are quite a severe problem in China,” he said. “Students don’t have enough room for exercise or other resources [such as libraries and science labs].” Cheng added that this problem is most prevalent in underdeveloped areas, and that it is the education bureau’s responsibility to add facilities and guarantee financial aid for local students.
Migration and urbanization are indeed bringing more and more students to Luozhuang’s 74 elementary and middle schools, Liu confirmed, adding that the district government has plans to expand 21 schools.
In March, a stampede at a primary school in central Henan province killed one student and seriously injured five more, casting a nationwide spotlight on overflowing institutions. The school’s average class size was 74 students.
Contributions: David Paulk; editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Students line up at the front of a classroom on their first day of middle school in Shenzhen, Sept. 1, 2014. Zhao Yanxiong/VCG)