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2021-04-16 04:25:09

Education authorities in Shenzhen want to make primary and secondary education free for all by 2025, extending national policy that calls for the first nine years of a child’s education to be fully funded.

According to a report Wednesday by local news outlet Shenzhen Special Zone Daily, policymakers said that given Shenzhen’s economic strength, the city has the resources to extend its free education period and become a leader in national education reform.

If Shenzhen follows through with this ambitious goal, it will become by far the largest city in China to offer 12 years of free education.

This can also signal the beginning of China’s move toward providing 12 years of free education.

In 2020, Shenzhen led the Greater Bay Area — an official geographic designation that also includes Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macao, among other nearby cities — with a local GDP of 2.76 trillion yuan ($422 billion). However, the city’s policymakers suggested that local education standards are still below the public’s expectations.

“As the city gets richer, it should bring in more projects to benefit the local residents,” said Yang Qin, a deputy of the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Congress, according to local media.

In both 2019 and 2020, Shenzhen reportedly invested over 10 billion yuan to subsidize preschool and high school education. At present, more than 80% of all preschool-aged children in the city are enrolled at either low-cost public kindergartens or private kindergartens that are subject to government-guided pricing.

Seats at public high schools are increasing, too. It is estimated that the city will provide over 216,500 seats for public high schoolers by 2025, nearly double the current figure.

Nationwide, the compulsory education period from first through ninth grade is free. Although preschool and high school education are heavily reimbursed by government funding, families still have to pay some school fees out of pocket. Though these expenses vary from one jurisdiction to another, a typical public kindergarten might charge a few hundred yuan each month, while tuition fees for public high schools can be hundreds of yuan per semester.

Weeks before Shenzhen’s announcement, a similar initiative was undertaken by a small, mountainous county in Guizhou, a southwestern province that is among the poorest regions in China. Longli County decided to waive tuition fees for all public high schoolers beginning with the 2021 spring semester.

This move, while progressive, is at a far smaller scale than Shenzhen. Longli has just one public high school enrolling around 3,300 students. Covering their tuition fees entails a government expenditure of around 5.4 million yuan per year.

However, Cao Bingsheng, an educator at Nantong Normal College who has been closely following China’s education reforms, said such policy changes can have a bigger short-term impact in a small county.

“Essentially, this policy change is aimed at alleviating the economic burden on poverty-stricken families who support their children continuing their studies,” he told Sixth Tone. “It can reduce dropout rates in underdeveloped areas.”

Shenzhen’s announcement “can also signal the beginning of China’s move toward providing 12 years of free education,” Cao added. “That would mean the overall education standard would improve in more remote, less developed areas of the country.”

As early as 2007, Zhuhai — also part of the Greater Bay Area — became the first city in China to make education free through the end of high school. As of mid-2020, hundreds of thousands of children had benefited from the policy.

A decade later, other cities began to follow suit. In early 2017, Pingxiang, a city in the eastern Jiangxi province, announced it would waive tuition fees for its 30,000-plus public high school students. The next year, Jiyuan in the central Henan province did the same, a boon to the city’s nearly 15,000 high schoolers.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Children attend class at a primary school in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, May 11, 2020. People Visual)