2016-12-30 13:47:41

A private international primary school in Beijing expelled a fourth-grader after her parents voiced concerns about the students’ safety following a minor injury their daughter sustained on the school campus. 

Although parents of elementary school students pay as much as 168,000 yuan ($24,000) for a year’s tuition, the school, which enrolls children aged between 2 and 12, was found to be operating without official permission.

The school happens to be co-chaired by a prominent Chinese actor, but the case is just one example of the chaotic atmosphere surrounding private schools in China, buoyed by parents seeking alternatives to the strict and highly competitive public education system. 

Cong Xinzhu discovered that her 11-year-old daughter had been hit by a ball and slightly injured one day when she was supposed to be in English class. When the girl’s parents tried to find out how their daughter could have been injured in class, teachers didn’t immediately reply, prompting Cong to complain to other parents. 

Cong said the reason she was so angry is that teachers didn’t inform her or her partner of their child’s injury. “I didn’t mean to cause trouble; I just wanted to notify other parents to check if their kids got hurt,” she told Sixth Tone.

In an interview with Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, Peide School Principal Qian Zhilong said that the fourth-graders were not in English class but instead were participating in an athletic activity as part of their global citizenship course. Though Cong claimed that her daughter did not receive medical attention after the injury occurred, Qian said the girl had been taken to the school clinic. 

Cong requested that one of the teachers be suspended, raising several other concerns of misconduct with the principal, who suspended her daughter instead.

“In fact, I didn’t dismiss the student, but the parents,” Qian said, clarifying that the child would not be attending the school any longer, as her parents’ views on education differed from the school’s.

Peide School describes itself as an international academy of Chinese classical education for students aged 2 to 12. However, after Cong and her partner first enrolled their daughter several months ago and paid part of the annual tuition, they found that the school didn’t have approval from the local education bureau to teach elementary school students. 

The Education Commission of Shunyi District, Beijing, confirmed that Peide School only had permission to offer kindergarten classes. 

Middle-class parents in China are growing increasingly frustrated with the country’s traditional, exam-oriented education system, which forces their children to study through the night and take a number of extracurricular classes beginning at a young age in order to eventually compete in the gaokao, the national college entrance exam. 

The demand for alternatives, especially international schools, is growing, and numerous investors have taken an interest in the lucrative market. A year’s tuition at the Western Academy of Beijing costs around 200,000 yuan; Beijing BISS International School charges parents of fourth-graders 219,000 yuan in annual tuition.   

A total of 661 international schools were operating on the Chinese mainland as of October this year, according to a report by NewSchool Insight Media, which estimated that these institutions enrolled 430,000 students, the vast majority of them Chinese. China’s education ministry reported an even higher figure for private education, stating that 12 million students were enrolled at the country’s 10,700 private schools. 

In an attempt to better regulate these schools, whose curriculum often differs substantially from that of public schools, China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed a law in November that would prohibit private schools from profiting off tuition paid by Chinese students during the country’s so-called compulsory education period, which is free until ninth grade.

(Header image: Students play soccer on the field at an international school in Shanghai, Aug. 25, 2014. Yang Yi/Sixth Tone)