China’s rural affirmative action

A new policy in China is giving preferential treatment to rural students who have long struggled to get in to the country’s top universities. This year, 12,100 spots were earmarked for students from 680 poor, rural counties, according to the Xinhua News Agency

Entrance to college in China is, for most, determined by a score on a single exam. But rural education is generally far weaker than in urban areas, meaning those in cities consistently outscore their rural peers and earn more spots in China’s colleges. The new rural quota is designed to reduce some of this educational inequity. 

Zeng Mengyao, a 19-year-old daughter of farmers, scored eight points less on her entrance exam than was required by Xiamen University - one of China’s top 20 schools. Still, she’ll be going there next year. 

"I am sure I would not have been admitted by such a prestigious university without this year’s special enrollment plan," Zeng told Xinhua. 

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"Two fish are swimming in a river. The older one asks, “How’s the water?” The younger one says, “I don’t know if it’s clean or cloudy.”"

— A question from China’s 2012 college entrance exam, according to the Wall Street Journal. The test, given annually to high school seniors in the country, is, in most cases, the only determining factor for college admissions. This question was among five that students could chose to write a 400-word essay about. 

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"The [Chinese] education system in the party-state is trying to lock up the minds of children, using an untenable set of ideology from Marx and Lenin to brainwash the children. If you don’t buy into that stuff, you will be given a zero score and you will fail the exam."

Jing Chu, described by New Tang Dynasty Television as an “internet writer,”  in response to reports that students who wrote anything critical about the Chinese government in essays on their college entrance exam received a zero

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"Higher education is the key to social mobility. Yet where a person is born has a significant bearing on their future success. Students from rural areas are at a distinct disadvantage in their schooling compared to urban students and for the majority of students in the countryside, enrollment at one of the country’s top universities is still an unattainable dream. Despite pledges by the government that education is one of its priorities, China continues to be a country where the best university education remains out of reach of the rural population."

China Daily

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"Shanghai is an exceptional case - and the [PISA] results there are close to what I expected. But what surprised me more [in China] were the results from poor provinces that came out really well. The levels of resilience are just incredible. In China, the idea is so deeply rooted that education is the key to mobility and success."

Andreas Schleicher,  Deputy Director for Education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development who oversees the Programme for International Student Assessment. 

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Chinese student’s speech sparks debate

When Jiang Chengbo took the stage at his high school’s weekly flag-raising ceremony, faculty expected him to give a pre-approved speech. Instead, they heard a passionate critique of China’s exam-heavy education system, reports the People’s Daily

"Investigation has shown Chinese students rank at the bottom of the world in terms of calculation ability and creativity," Jiang said. "Some of us live in jealousy. They are jealous of those who score higher in exams… Some of us live in loneliness. They bury themselves in doing exercises so that they don’t have any good friends. We cannot feel the love of parents, for they are either at work or pushing us to prepare for exams… We cannot feel the respect of teachers, for they are always forcing us to study for their enrollment rates."

Every time Chinese students move from one level of education to the next, they take a test that determines what school they will be able to attend. Competition for the best schools is fierce. The pressure to do well on these exams is intense and leads to long hours of studying year round for students. This is not the first time China’s education system has received such a critique, but the source is unusual, which gives some hope:

China formulated a 10-year national education plan (from 2010 to 2020) in July 2010, pledging to build a system to monitor workloads and lessen pressure on primary and secondary school students.

Yin Fei, a professor with Nanjing Normal University said, Jiang’s speech, to some extent, reflected improvement on that front already.

Chinese students have largely been silent on the pressure they shouldered, but now more of them are daring to voice dissatisfaction, which schools they are being given more freedom in an education environment that is increasingly tolerant, Yin said. 

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Chinese rich hope to send children abroad

Ninety percent of China’s richest citizens - those worth more than $16 million - plan to send their children abroad for college, according to a new study by China’s Industrial Bank and Hurun Report. For those with assets of at least $1 million, 85 percent hoped to have their children educated in a foreign country, reports the International Business Times.

Most want their children to attend a school in the United States, where the top universities are regarded by Chinese parents as the best in the world. That, combined with with criticism and questions about the Chinese education system, has lead to a large influx of Chinese students in American schools. As the Times puts it:

"According to the Industrial Bank and Hurun Report white paper, wealthy Chinese parents value ‘all-around development’ and ‘quality-oriented education’ for their children. But, even outside the upper class, there is now a widespread debate about the quality of China’s state education and whether it needs to be reformed. Middle-class Chinese increasingly hope to send their children abroad as well."

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Chinese minority students spent time last summer at this school in Southern China’s Yunnan province learning their native language. (Photo by Sarah Butrymowicz) 
At a middle school in a rural area in China’s Yunnan Province devoted to educating the area’s ethnic minorities, many of the students have a fairly simple career goal in mind: they want to get a job performing traditional minority dances, which would almost certainly place them smack dab in tourist venues. In addition to the traditional middle-school curriculum, the school also passes on minority traditions, like dances and shoemaking.
The school is a shining example of the Chinese government’s policies that have made minority education a priority. But their efforts haven’t been universally embraced.
Although China is about 95 percent Han, or what we think of when we think of “Chinese,” there are 56 officially recognized minorities, many of whom live in pockets around the country, often in rural villages. Yunnan province is home to 26 of these groups.
The government has increased its efforts toward minority students in recent years, investing more money in schools designed specifically for these students and even creating some free language schools where students of all ages can go during the summer and improve skills in their native tongue.
Other schools, like the Minority High School in Kunming, Yunnan’s capital city, are open to all kinds of minorities. Specific languages and traditions are not taught, but students are encouraged to maintain them. The high school, instead, is marked by having lower entrance standards than other schools in the city, as an affirmative action of sorts to make up for the fact that many minority students grow up in poor, rural areas without access to quality education. In most cases, it’s the best high school that these students are eligible to attend based on their test scores. Almost all of the students now are eligible to go on to college, something that would have been almost unthinkable even a decade ago.
In theory, these schools are an answer to a dilemma that ethnic-minority parents have long faced in a world where assimilation to mainstream culture has been the only way to get ahead. Parents often feel as though they’ve been “forced to chose between respecting their ancestors and loving their children,” said Bryan Allen, who has spent over a decade studying minority languages in Yunnan and currently runs Bestway Education, a company that prepares Chinese high schoolers to go abroad for college. 
The hope is that by increasing the quality of minority schools, the government will be able eradicate this tension—preserving China’s unique cultures while also preparing students to be competitive with their Han peers in college and beyond.
Allen was more skeptical, saying that the Chinese government has been paying lip service to minorities for years and mostly views them as a tourist attraction. Government support is necessary to fix the problem, he said, but thus far support has been insufficient to have a real impact.

Chinese minority students spent time last summer at this school in Southern China’s Yunnan province learning their native language. (Photo by Sarah Butrymowicz) 

At a middle school in a rural area in China’s Yunnan Province devoted to educating the area’s ethnic minorities, many of the students have a fairly simple career goal in mind: they want to get a job performing traditional minority dances, which would almost certainly place them smack dab in tourist venues. In addition to the traditional middle-school curriculum, the school also passes on minority traditions, like dances and shoemaking.

The school is a shining example of the Chinese government’s policies that have made minority education a priority. But their efforts haven’t been universally embraced.

Although China is about 95 percent Han, or what we think of when we think of “Chinese,” there are 56 officially recognized minorities, many of whom live in pockets around the country, often in rural villages. Yunnan province is home to 26 of these groups.

The government has increased its efforts toward minority students in recent years, investing more money in schools designed specifically for these students and even creating some free language schools where students of all ages can go during the summer and improve skills in their native tongue.

Other schools, like the Minority High School in Kunming, Yunnan’s capital city, are open to all kinds of minorities. Specific languages and traditions are not taught, but students are encouraged to maintain them. The high school, instead, is marked by having lower entrance standards than other schools in the city, as an affirmative action of sorts to make up for the fact that many minority students grow up in poor, rural areas without access to quality education. In most cases, it’s the best high school that these students are eligible to attend based on their test scores. Almost all of the students now are eligible to go on to college, something that would have been almost unthinkable even a decade ago.

In theory, these schools are an answer to a dilemma that ethnic-minority parents have long faced in a world where assimilation to mainstream culture has been the only way to get ahead. Parents often feel as though they’ve been “forced to chose between respecting their ancestors and loving their children,” said Bryan Allen, who has spent over a decade studying minority languages in Yunnan and currently runs Bestway Education, a company that prepares Chinese high schoolers to go abroad for college. 

The hope is that by increasing the quality of minority schools, the government will be able eradicate this tension—preserving China’s unique cultures while also preparing students to be competitive with their Han peers in college and beyond.

Allen was more skeptical, saying that the Chinese government has been paying lip service to minorities for years and mostly views them as a tourist attraction. Government support is necessary to fix the problem, he said, but thus far support has been insufficient to have a real impact.

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Due to China’s rigid laws about moving between rural areas and cities, many children whose parents have moved illegally wind up at privately run schools designed specifically for them, such as the one pictured above. These schools often deliver a subpar education, with limited resources and unqualified teachers. Hundreds of migrant parents gathered outside the Chinese Ministry of Education last week, demanding better education for their children, according to France 24.  It marked the 21st time migrant workers in Beijing had petitioned the government to let their children take the country’s college entrance exam in the city, rather than being forced to return to their hometowns for it. 
As one parent told France 24:

It’s a problem that has taken over my life. If we send her back to our hometown alone, we won’t be able to take care of her. Not only that, but the testing system is different there from in Beijing. I also think it will be very difficult for her to adapt to her new school environment. Yet her future is inextricably bound to this single exam. So, the other option is that we all go back together, which means I lose my job in Beijing.
…
The result [of the protest] was very disappointing. They told us that the ministry would look into the problem, but they didn’t give us a time frame as to when we could expect an official response. When we brought the problem to [Education Minister Yuan Guiren] nearly one year ago, he promised to find a solution then, but we’re still waiting to hear anything.

Due to China’s rigid laws about moving between rural areas and cities, many children whose parents have moved illegally wind up at privately run schools designed specifically for them, such as the one pictured above. These schools often deliver a subpar education, with limited resources and unqualified teachers. Hundreds of migrant parents gathered outside the Chinese Ministry of Education last week, demanding better education for their children, according to France 24.  It marked the 21st time migrant workers in Beijing had petitioned the government to let their children take the country’s college entrance exam in the city, rather than being forced to return to their hometowns for it. 

As one parent told France 24:

It’s a problem that has taken over my life. If we send her back to our hometown alone, we won’t be able to take care of her. Not only that, but the testing system is different there from in Beijing. I also think it will be very difficult for her to adapt to her new school environment. Yet her future is inextricably bound to this single exam. So, the other option is that we all go back together, which means I lose my job in Beijing.

The result [of the protest] was very disappointing. They told us that the ministry would look into the problem, but they didn’t give us a time frame as to when we could expect an official response. When we brought the problem to [Education Minister Yuan Guiren] nearly one year ago, he promised to find a solution then, but we’re still waiting to hear anything.

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Chinese city bans kindergartens from giving palm-reading assessment

Three private kindergartens in a northern China city have been charging parents $190 per student for a palm-reading test, which they advertised as being able to “tell a child’s intelligence and professional aptitude,” according to China’s English news service, Xinhua. The municipal government in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi Province, stepped in to bar schools for using the assessment in the future. Xinhua reports:

Earlier in January, some parents in Taiyuan complained to Xinhua that they had been offered the test, which could allegedly help them find out their children’s aptitudes in music, mathematics or languages, so as to cultivate these talents accordingly at an earlier age.

Though some parents eagerly took their children to the test, many others complained of the high costs and doubted if it was scientific or superstitious.

It’s noteworthy that the questions about this test, based on the article, boil down to whether the test is scientific, not whether a child should be started down a particular career path at the age of four or five. Perhaps that’s not surprising though in a country that has such stiff competition for admission to the top colleges - based almost entirely on the performance on a single test. The way the Chinese education system is set up, early detection of a musical gift could, in fact, make a huge difference. 

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