Public school district system in China: Realizing a real equity or bringing a new threat to Chinese education?

In February 2014, Chinese Ministry of Education issued a scheme of school district system, which allows that students to attend neighboring schools without passing examinations. This policy aims at allocating student resources more equably. [1] Since China passed the first compulsory education law in 1986, Chinese education has experienced a lot of reforms, especially in public education. At the beginning, the compulsory education was only defined as “required” education; Chinese students still had to pay certain tuition and miscellaneous fees (including books and school uniforms). To help more students receive education, the revised 2006 education law stipulates explicitly that students will receive a nine-year compulsory education without any tuition and miscellaneous fees in public schools. This education policy ensures that more students attend schools, while also giving students a right to choose their desired schools. This creates a phenomenon of more students choosing to go to key schools [2] instead of regular schools, especially in urban areas. It is common that many key schools set up entrance examinations to select best students, and even ask for higher education fees for students with lower examination scores [3]. On the contrary, regular schools are facing a shortage of student resources, creating a serious imbalance between key and regular schools. In this context, the school district system has been put forward to alleviate this imbalance.

Interestingly, in the development of Chinese education, “advocating for students to go to neighboring schools” is not new. To illustrate it, the China Education Online (CEO) has published a diagram to show the whole process of Chinese education [4]:

— In 1986, the Chinese first compulsory education law states: local governments set up elementary schools and middle schools to ensure that children can receive education in their neighborhood.

— In 2006, the revised compulsory education law states: local governments should guarantee school-aged children can receive education in schools which are near to the places of their official residence.

— In 2010, the “National Long-term Plan for Education Reform and Development” states: to adapt to the urban and rural development, local governments should regulate the school distribution to make it convenient for students to attend neighboring schools.

All the relevant educational laws and regulations mention that students should choose neighboring schools to receive education.

This new school district system emphasizes that students can attend neighboring schools without examinations, which would release pressure on students. At the same time, for those students whose homes are near key schools, they don’t need to compete with other students any more. Moreover, to avoid losing student resources, local governments will also strengthen the efforts to increase the quality of schools in order to balance the school facilities and quality of teachers in different schools. [1] It is hoped that, as a result, parents won’t try to send their children to key schools; and children won’t have to experience the intense competition in their early ages. To some degree, this policy creates a relatively equitable and healthy educational environment.

However, under the schools district system, one of the problems has caught people’s attention. The revised 2006 compulsory education law mentions that students can attend schools near their official residence, which means that students can attend any schools near their homes. The problem is two-prong. First, rich families may want to guarantee that their children receive best possible education and do not hesitate to spend plenty of money in order to buy houses near key schools. [6][7] In Chinese newspapers, news about “extremely high-priced school district housing” has been reported frequently and it is very common that parents buy school district houses in order to send their children to good schools. Second, poor families may be renting houses, which may prevent their children from attending neighboring schools. In other words, equitable access to quality education is still a problem. When children are rejected by schools because of the residential status, the educational system is not equitable any longer and has lost its own original intention. This problem may become a threat for Chinese education unless the government makes some measures to change it.

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Unlike other countries where school district system has been used for years, China still needs better implementation mechanisms. Nevertheless, this system is a good attempt to reform Chinese education and it does bring certain advantages. Will it bring the real equity on public education? Or will it become a new threat? I believe we can find answers in the future.

 

References

[1] http://xiaoxue.eol.cn/zxrd_9631/20140218/t20140218_1074810_1.shtml

[2] Key schools:  Usually those with records of past educational accomplishment – were given priority in the assignment of teachers, equipment, and funds. They also were allowed to recruit the best students for special training to compete for admission to top schools at the next level. (Wikipedia) 

[3] Tsang, C.M. (2001). School choice in the People’s Republic of China.

[4] http://www.eol.cn/html/jijiao/xiao/msrx/index.shtml

[5] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=2783

[6] Wu, X., (2011). The household registration system and rural-urban educational inequity in contemporary China. Population Studies Center.

[7] http://english.people.com.cn/business/8578128.html

 

 

 

 

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