China’s income and education gaps benefit wealthy families

By Zhang Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/21 19:08:39

Two twin sisters from Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, were recently accepted into Oxford and Cambridge universities. A Chinese newspaper, after interviewing their parents and one of the girls, published a story on their successful education methods. The story, however, was bombarded by Chinese netizens who complained all they see in their education is "money."

According to the newspaper, the girls' favorite hobbies are skiing, star-gazing and volunteering around the world, doing things that they feel are "meaningful." Their parents were described as unconventional, open-minded and unconcerned about scores. They never sent the girls to cram schools, even though they ranked at the bottom percentile at school. Their eventual success, according to one of the girls, was due to "their curiosity of the world."

Nowhere in the article does it mention how the parents can afford this lifestyle, but there's a hidden price tag to everything. Snoopy netizens discovered that their private school was known locally as "a school for aristocrats," charging a tuition a dozen times higher than the cost of a public school. The high school they attended in the US, White Mountain, charges a tuition over $50,000 per year. Not to mention the countless overseas trips and volunteering abroad programs, which apparently look great on university applications.

The twins' path to the West's best universities and the ensuing reaction by netizens is an interesting reflection of China's ever-widening education and income gaps.

About 20 years ago, when I was in primary school, a book called Harvard Girl Liu Yiting was so popular that it sold over 2 million copies in China. Written by a journalist couple who got their daughter into Harvard, it was considered "the bible" for Chinese parents eager to give their children the best education. My mom bought the book. It also spawned a dozen copycats about how to get your child into Oxford, Cambridge, Yale and so on.

Back then, the average Chinese parent still believed that if they offered their children a proper family education and shaped their character well, they would have a chance to attend the best schools. But not today. As the number of Chinese high schools targeting Western universities rises, along with their tuition, it's become clear to Chinese parents that, without wealth, sending their children to a Western university is simply out of the question.

Even for those taking the gaokao, China's dreaded score-based college entrance examination widely believed to be the more fair way for Chinese students to get accepted into top-tier Chinese universities, the education gap is widening.

Compared with 30 years ago, the opportunity for rural students - who have far fewer educational resources compared with their urban counterparts - to attend a top college has decreased rather than risen. A study by a professor from Peking University showed that, between 1978 and 1998, 30 percent of students at the prestigious university hailed from rural areas. By 2011, that number had dropped to 10 percent. The percentage of rural freshman in Shanghai's elite Fudan University also falls short, at just 20 percent.

In first-tier cities, whether a child can attend a "good" school largely depends on whether their parents have a local hukou (residents permit) and can afford cram school. Hukou, however, are rarely given to migrant workers despite the fact that around 40 percent of Shanghai's population is comprised of migrants as of 2015.

After the story of the Wenzhou twins went viral, my editor shared the article to a group of local mothers who are all planning to send their children abroad. The article's argument was that being rich, rather than so-called "essential-qualities-oriented schooling" helped them get into Oxford and Cambridge.

"The author [of the article] is so poor and pathetic!" one mother in the group exclaimed. "Admission officers at Oxford and Cambridge aren't idiots!" laughed another. Sadly, while China continues to focus on lifting the living standards of all Chinese, the income and education gap continues to widen, putting elite educations even farther out of reach for ordinary Chinese.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Illustration:Lu Ting/GT


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