China’s new education reform mandating that the country’s private schools adopt a lottery system for student admissions has raised concerns among some parents, who are calling the practice “unfair.”
Zheng Fuzhi, China’s deputy education minister, briefed reporters Tuesday about the new guidelines, part of the country’s continued reforms to improve the quality of compulsory education. According to the guidelines, released Monday, both public and private schools in the compulsory education system should start their enrollment processes at the same time, and private schools should select students through a random computerized system if applications exceed quotas.
“A lottery system means that, no matter how well you prepare your child, their enrollment will be based simply on luck — that’s not a very fair practice,” Cheng Lina, a Shanghai native planning to enroll her 5-year-old at a private primary school next year, told Sixth Tone. “With the policy change, we’re now frozen in place.”
Many Chinese parents believe private schools to be more selective than public schools, creating a more competitive environment for children and increasing their chances of getting into more prestigious educational institutions beyond middle school. For many, private schools have even become an alternative to some of the best public academic institutions. (Public schools in China only admit students with household registrations belonging to that residential neighborhood.)
Education policy expert Xiong Bingqi believes a lottery system isn’t a rational approach, and that the practice might compromise families’ rights in choosing their preferred teaching style for their children. He said the change in the enrollment practice “could lead to other imbalances and even result in trading under the table,” referring to bribes, special favors, or other surreptitious solutions.
“From the perspective of the compulsory education law, which emphasizes that admission shouldn’t be based on tests, this policy holds up,” Xiong told Sixth Tone. “But realistically, families should be able to choose a school, and private schools should also have the right to make their own choices. A fundamental solution is to advance the balance of educational resources.”
However, Qin Yue, another Shanghai mother, said the new policy would free parents from spending on costly and often crammed prep institutes that prepare children for interviews and tests at private schools. She says the techniques employed by such institutes can be harsh.
“I won’t need to consider putting my daughter into those prep schools, which I have never believed are appropriate for children,” said the mother of a 3-year-old. “But in the past, you couldn’t avoid it because it seemed to be the trend.”
Apart from enrollment, the new guidelines also address other problems plaguing China’s education system: They direct schools to refrain from burdening students with extracurricular activities or excessive homework and explicitly prohibit supersized classrooms that cram hundreds of students into a room meant for only a few dozen.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Children interact with teachers during an admissions interview at a private primary school in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, May 5, 2019. Liu Li/VCG)