The race to get into a top school in China can be fierce from an early age — but the Ministry of Education is fighting to curb competition and level the playing field.
On Thursday, the ministry published a notice reiterating that schools must not publicize their graduates’ admission rates into top high schools or universities, or disclose their students’ exam scores. The policy aims to ensure that every child has access to quality education close to their homes.
According to the ministry, last year 98.7 percent of students in 24 major cities attended a nearby primary school — with “nearby” being undefined — while 97 percent went to a nearby middle school. Though comparable national statistics aren’t available for previous years, the ratio appears to be a notable increase on earlier citywide figures from Beijing and Shanghai. In 2014 for example, only 88 percent of Shanghai students attended a nearby primary or middle school.
For primary and middle school — known as the “compulsory education” period, from first to ninth grade — every Chinese child is entitled to enroll in a local public school according to their family’s household registration. But many parents aren’t satisfied with their nearest school: They assume private schools that select students based on interviews or tests will provide a better learning atmosphere, or they even buy property in districts with the best public schools.
Graduates’ admission rates are a big draw for parents, who want their children to be surrounded with high achievers.
“Data speaks louder than anything else,” said Zhuo Ceng, the mother of a 19-year-old. During her son’s school years, the family moved around Shanghai three times so he could attend the best schools. The effort was worth it: He recently enrolled at Fudan University, the city’s top-ranked tertiary institution.
According to Xiong Yihan, an associate professor of international relations and public affairs at Fudan, stopping schools from disclosing admission rates won’t immediately shift their reputations in the eyes of the public. “Parents have their own sources of information,” Xiong told Sixth Tone. “It’s a natural and inevitable trend that top students tend to gather together in reputable schools. The ban won’t put a complete stop to that.”
But as well as clamping down on school advertising, the ministry is also changing admissions policies to reduce educational ghettoization. In the past, students with standout skills in sports or arts could enjoy preferential recruitment into high schools and universities — but such quotas will be gradually reduced, and fully eliminated by 2020.
Shanghai’s education authority has also stepped in to dampen the fever for selecting schools. Officials announced earlier this year that for the school term starting in the coming fall, public and private primary schools will recruit simultaneously. In the past, because private schools held their recruitment interviews first, parents in the city would often send their children to private school interviews and then make a decision based on the results. But this year, students who choose to compete for a spot at a private school will give up their original place in the public system.
If the student fails to win a private school spot, they will be reassigned a public school place, but not necessarily at the school they would have been entitled to attend based on their family’s household registration — meaning that families will have to decide early which race they want to run.
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: Music students wait outside a classroom during their middle school entrance examinations in Beijing, May 22, 2010. Fa Ke/Legal Evening News/VCG)